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Richard Russell 

Episcopal Divinity School 

M. Div. Thesis 

Spring 1996 

Situating Reading, Shaping Divinity: 
Luce Irigaray, Interpretation, Theology 

Each form sets a tone, enables a destiny, 

strikes a note in the universe unlike any other. 

How can we ever stop looking? 

How can we ever turn away? 

-Mary Oliver, "Staying Alive" 

Situating Reading, Shaping Divinity: 
Luce Irigaray, Interpretation, Theology 


Professor Angela Bauer (thesis advisor) 

Professor Kwok Pui Lan 

Professor Elisabeth Schiissler Fiorenza 

Maggie Cunningham 

Rev. Dr. Francis Bogle 

Rev. George H. Welles, Jr. 

Thomas Ouellette 

Exergue: What Is a Thesis? 

I. The Situation of Reading 

• The Reading Lesson 

• A Question of Style 

• Reading Luce Irigaray 

• Luce Irigaray Reading 

• Reading Against the Feminist Mirror: 

Through the Looking Glass 

• An Ethics of Reading: In the Beginning. . . 

• Putting Feuerbach in His Place 

• Beyond the Mirror: Wounded and Abandoned and Leftover 

II. The Shape of Divinity 

• Reading Theology? 

• Theology and Theory 

• Speaking for the Other: Reading Positions 

• The Tale of a Snake 

• Making Sense of g*d? 

An Ethics of Theological Difference 

Woman I g*d - Re /figuration of Divinity 

Gender /Genre and Divinity: An Axial Approach 

Mine or Yours? Self and Other 

The Essential Thing Is. . . 

An Ethics of Wonder 

un ange se passe 

The Shape of Things To (Be)Come 

Bibliography of works consulted 

Exergue 1 : What Is a Thesis? 

mi 5i%0T0|ir|G£i auxov Kai xo \iepoq 

amou fiexa xcov 'uxoKpixcov uT|oei 

-Matthew 24.51 

Poet Mary Oliver reminds us that "each form sets a tone, enables a 
destiny, strikes a note in the universe unlike any other." 2 What, then, is 
this form? and what tone does it set, what singular note does it strike? 
what is the destiny it enables? 

Wanting to reflect on the activity in which I'm engaged, I consult 
The Oxford English Dictionary. A thesis is a putting, a placing, a putting-in- 
place, from the Greek TidTUii/Tidrivai, to put, place, lay, lay down, serve, 
set, make. A thesis is a proposition laid down, set (out), made, as a theme 
to be discussed and proved, to be maintained against attack; a statement, 
an assertion, a tenet, a subject. A thesis is a theme for a school exercise, a 
composition or essay; a dissertation to maintain and prove a thesis. A 
thesis is thetic, such as is (fit to be) placed; positive, affirmative, 

Hors d'Oeuvre, extratext, foreplay, facing, prefacing, bookend. Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, 
Barbara Johnson, tr. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981, 1. 
2 Mary Oliver, "Staying Alive," Blue Pastures, 69-70. 

beginning with and bearing a thesis, against the negative, negation, 
darkness. A thesis is an exegesis, from Ety\ye£GDai, an interpretation, a 
leading out of (darkness, error), an explanation of a bit (sentence, word) of 
writing, of (what is taken as) Scripture, an explanatory note, a gloss, an 
expository discourse. A thesis is performed by one of the three members 
of the Eumolpidae, in Athens, whose job it was to interpret the religious 
and ceremonial law, the signs in the heavens, and oracles. A thesis is a 
settling, once and for all, but spontaneously: ftexe odv ev xaic, KapSiaic, 
'ducov ur| 7tpo|i£?t£Tav a7io^oyr|i5r|vai (Luke 21.14). 

A thesis, then, is both the thing placed itself and the placing forth; it 
is contained and container, signified and signifier, performed and 
performance, formed and form; it is its own referent; a thesis has a thesis 
and a thesis has a thesis. 

A thesis is also the act of setting down the foot or the hand (or 
head) when beating time, and - tenor and vehicle - is also the ictus itself 
the stressed syllable of, say, a foot in a verse. But at the same time, a thesis 
is also the lowering of the voice on an unstressed syllable, a whispered 
aside, as it were, a shadow, a darkness, thus effectually reversing other 
meanings of the word. It is both putting down one's foot and the time and 
space of suspension or indecision in between. 

This thesis is/has all this. And as and with its thesis, Luce 
Irigaray's 3 theological reflections, it seeks the shape and color of its own 
shadow, its antithesis, that which is placed against itself, against 
"commonsense." This is a piece a these, with the dizzying resonances of 
that phrase, a place/room/play intent on putting into play questions that 
engage the public imagination and are often objects of passionate 
discussion. It takes as its thesis, that infinitely self-referential and - 
reflexive moment: that reading is a theological act 4 , representing and 
reflecting on ontological and ordinary questions, taking and showing all 
we are; that reading is beat and silence, solid and shifting fluid. It takes 
seriously such questions as: in what am I participating when I read, 
interpret? what are my goals? what is my understanding of what the 
process is and what it is to effect and what its effects are? The matter, 
then, is not so much, "Here is a text; let me read it," as, "Why am I 
reading this text? What kind of act was the writing of it? What question 
about it does it itself not raise? What am I participating in when I read 
it?" 5 

In faithfulness to her emphatic preference, I refer to Luce Irigaray throughout using not only 
her sexually neutral surname but also her given name, which is sexually inscribed and marked 
as feminine. 
4 action / performance / speech act 

These questions are suggested loosely by Barbara Johnson in A World of Difference, 3-4. 

It can be argued that one of the insights and insinuations of recent 
thinkers has to do with the ways in which any society is composed of 
certain foregrounded practices organizing its normative institutions. 6 The 
Matthean epigraphic inscription above suggests a perilously close 
connection between the disciplinary practice of placing a thesis 
(#no£t)and the practice of discipline (5ixoxo|JT|0£i oruxov). The rhetoric of 
dichotomy is metonymically contiguous with the rhetoric of theses, and 
the consequent violence of that association isn't "merely" tropic but also 
bodily: the dismembered corpse - punishment here seems too sanitized a 
translation - as punishment, perhaps, but also perhaps as inevitability, 
will be put in the place of lies, jiexa tcov 'DXOKprccov. 7 

This thesis takes as its thesis a body of work that problematizes 
reading in such a way as both to analyze itself and to show that it has 
neither a self nor any neutral metalanguage with which to do the 
analyzing, thus calling out irresistibly for, precisely, analysis. That that 
call is answered by readings which emit their own paradoxical call-to- 
analysis results, in the context of any question of the act-of-reading, in a f 

De Certeau, Foucault, and Bhabha are immediate examples of such. 

This passage in Matthew comes at the end of a discourse on a theology of master/slave 
relations which Luce Irigaray reads to overturn, and just before the f3acn.A£ia parable of the 
foolish and wise young women. 

ield which places the would-be reader in a vertiginously insecure 

How, then, indeed, can we ever turn away? 

I. The Situation of Reading 

La, tu exageres un peu, la, tu charries. 

-Luce Irigaray 8 

The Reading Lesson 

I have read in a French weekly that some are 
displeased with Milk Plateaux because they expect, 
especially when reading a work of philosophy, to be 
gratified with a little sense. 

-Jean-Frangois Lyotard* 

Nietzsche, one of Luce Irigaray's constant addressees, writes that 
reading is an art that "does not so easily get anything done; it teaches to 
read well, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before 
and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and 
fingers." 11 Against the sensitivity and subtlety of these readers, I'm afraid, 

Luce Irigaray, "Nietzsche, Freud et les Femmes," in Le corps-a-corps, 52. 

9 Jean-Francois Lyotard, "Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?," 71. (Milk 
Plateaux is a work of "philosophy" by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.) 

10 In Marine Lover: OfFriedrich Nietzsche and "Nietzsche, Freud et les femmes," among other 
places; and with, among others, of course, Heidegger, Freud, and Lacan. 

11 Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak, 5. Pascal further cautions: "Quand on lit trop vite ou trop 
doucement on n'entend rien." Pensees, 564. 

is the much more commonplace understanding of interpretation and of 
reading - indeed, understanding of "understanding" - that if we read, 
even though the opacity or denseness of a text initially may rebuff us, 
there suddenly will occur a moment of illumination when everything will 
become clear. This is the promise described by those who taught us to 
read, the prize fruit held behind the back of any text. Upon this 
enlightenment, we will be able to reread the text and see how what was 
opaque or dense was necessary to build up the triggering mechanism of 
illumination, of "understanding." The pedagogical implications of such 
injunctions, promises, expectations aside (one of the more insidious being 
the separation of readers on the basis of their success or failure in 
achieving illumination), it is interesting to consider the underlying 
assumptions of this description of the reading process. 

To begin with, it opposes the immediately apprehensible darkness 
of the sensible to the eventuality of the great clarity of the intelligible, yet 
makes the first the condition and the means of access to the second. It 
relies on the well-known (yet complex) notion of expression which figures 
the immediately perceptible materiality of the text - its verbal component 
- as a means of access, a container yet a barrier, to the central core of 
meaning of the text. The verbal component needs to be overcome to reach 

that core, but the overcoming itself is not easily described, for its 
achievement may depend more on the qualities and skills of the reader 
than, seemingly, on any specific steps that can be taken to ensure its 
accomplishment. Moreover, it is not the case that the core of meaning is 
somehow held permanently imprisoned within that materiality, but 
rather that it becomes manifest in a flash of intuition that illuminates the 
whole and motivates its necessity. 

There appear then to be two competing notions of expression at 
work here: the first is based on the familiar model of the apparent and the 
hidden, where the hidden holds the key to the existential necessity of the 
apparent; whereas the second overcomes this model with an altogether 
different notion of expression whose matrix is lightning. In direct 
opposition to the inside /outside, contained /container dialectic of the first 
theory of expression and interpretation, the model of lightning proposes a 
perfect congruence between the expression and that which is expressed. 
Lightning cannot be said to be hidden before its manifestation, but rather 
it expresses itself (if the word still applies) fully in the instant of its 
illumination. In fact, it suspends the difference between the manifest and 
the manifesting, producing in its instantaneity a moment of perfect 
presence. However, the punctual brevity of its flash is such as to displace 


its significance away from itself onto the surrounding darkness whose 
internal composition it reveals. Even if the eye were to train itself on the 
flash, and were it able to predict the exact moment and place of its 
occurrence, it would remain unseeing, for it would be blinded by the 
force of the light, so that it is not lightning itself that we wish to see but 
what its flash reveals, the inner configuration of the surrounding 
landscape and the forces at play within it. The eye remains trained on the 
darkness knowing it to hold a secret that the flash will disclose. The flash 
is not the secret but the occasion of the moment when all is in the light, 
the reward for peering into the dark. 

Against this problematic commonsense conceptualization of 
reading are many alternatives which problematize the scene of reading, 
that diagnose the symptoms of investing the Text with the authority to 
mean, that do not assume words are transparent windows. These 
readings are not the representations of a preexisting object, nor the 
creation through discourse of an object that does not exist, but rather "the 
totality of discursive and non-discursive practices that brings something 
into the play of truth and falsehood and constitutes it as an object for 
thought. " n 


" Michel Foucault, "Le Souci de la verite," 18. 

Shoshana Felman offers one such alternative, based on her 
understanding, through Lacan, of psychoanalytic method. 13 She suggests 
replacing the traditional method of application of any preconceived notion 
or method of reading with the radically different notion of implication. The 
reader brings to bear her analytical questions on the questions of the text, 
involves her contexts in the scene of textual analysis, and generates 
implications between, in the case of Luce Irigaray, philosophy and 
psychoanalysis and theology and literature (to begin with). She is a go- 
between, exploring and articulating the various (indirect ways) in which 
the domains do indeed implicate each other, each one finding itself 
enlightened, informed, but also affected, displaced, folded within, the 
other. 14 

What better thesis for a thesis, then, that sense-making apparatus 
par excellence which contains within its own definition the unmaking of 
any "sense," than the work of an author who resolutely "abandons 
coherence, consistency, and noncontradiction as reflective of male 
anatomy"? 15 The very form of an academic discourse, hypostasized in 

See any of the five works by Felman I list in the bibliography. 
14 See particularly Shoshana Felman, "To Open the Question," 8-9. In its etymological sense, 
"implication" means "to fold within" (Latin: im-plicare = in + fold): it indicates, between two 
terms, a spatial relation of interiority. Application, on the other hand, is based on the 
presumption of a relation of exteriority, of hierarchy, of mastery. 

Christine Pierce, "Postmodernism and Other Skepticisms," in Feminist Ethics, 67. 


theses, makes ideas such as those of Luce Irigaray difficult to describe and 
comprehend. In her articulation of what might constitute a feminist 
hermeneutic framework, Sharon Welsh writes that she agrees with Luce 
Irigaray: "emotion, interest, and desire motivate inquiry and shape 
thought - thus the importance of acknowledging forthrightly the role they 
play in our analyses/' 16 

Part of the power of Luce Irigaray's writing - 1 cannot say 
"argument" - is the link she implicitly makes - that is, the implication she 
suggests - between sexuality and textuality. Her formulation of the 
female as bearer of imprints exposes the implications (in terms of sexual, 
economic, social, and cultural exchanges) of a textuality figured as 
female. 17 Masculinist reading takes the female body as the symbolic site in 
which social meaning is concretized at the same time that any concrete, 
material specificity is emptied out in order to ensure the body's service as a 
pure and proper vehicle. 

An-other reading possibility, to return to Felman's suggestion, is 
one based not on the isomorphically repetitive binary phallic subjective 
economy of has/has-not - the Logic of the One - but rather on the mutual 
im-plication of difference, interacting and merging one with the other. 



Sharon Welsh, A Feminist Ethic of Risk, 8. 

See Luce Irigaray, "Women on the Market," in This Sex, 170-191. 


Asked to account for itself, such a reading "cannot answer; she has 
already moved on [and] turned her back on her own thought, a kind of 
vaginal fold within herself/' 18 The reality of reading is always corpo-real: 
a turn of interpretation is a fold of flesh; in this differently figured 
hermeneutic discourse, the reading lips, which speak, are always already 
the genital lips, enjoying their difference. "Irigaray's (post)modern female 
body comes to synechdochically inhabit the lips.... The French levres is a 
catachresis which always necessarily also refers to the mouth.... Irigaray 
embodies female sexuality in that which, at this moment in the history of 
the language, is always figurative, can never be simply taken as the thing 
itself." 19 

Because of the biological and epistemological snares inherent in the 
topology Luce Irigaray proposes, Felman problematizes the reading-scene 
further. She points out that while Luce Irigaray theorizes "the feminist 
question" on the levels not only of material, practical organization but 
also of the foundations of logos and thought - "the subtle linguistic 
procedures and in the logical processes through which meaning itself is 
produced" - it is not clear that the "otherness" of (W)oman can be taken 
for granted as positively occupying the un-thought-out, problematic locus 

Andrea Nye, Feminist Theory and the Philosophies of Man, 195. 
19 Jane Gallop, Thinking Through the Body, 97-8. 


from which "the feminist question" is being uttered to begin with. Felman 
asks repeatedly: "how can one speak from the place of the other?" 20 

If 'woman' is precisely the Other of any conceivable Western 
theoretical locus of speech, how can the woman as such be speaking 
in this book? Who is speaking her, and who is asserting the 
otherness of the woman? . . . From what theoretical locus is Luce 
Irigaray herself speaking in order to develop her own theoretical 
discourse about the woman's exclusion? Is she speaking the 
language of men, or the silence of women? 21 

Is it possible for woman to be thought outside of the masculine /feminine 
framework? Is woman other than opposed to man, other than 
sub(ject)ordinate to a primordial masculine model? Can difference be 
thought out as nonsubordinate to identity? Indeed, can thought break away 
from the logic of polar oppositions? 

20 Shoshana Felman, What Does a Woman Want?, 25, among many other places. As she points 
out, the problem is common to the revaluation of madness and to the contention of (W)oman, 
reminding the reader of the implications among the work of Foucault (Maladie mentale et 
personnalite, 1954, and Folie et deraison, 1961), Luce Irigaray (Le Langage des dements, 1973), and 
Felman herself {La folie et la chose litteraire, 1978) - emphases mine! 


Shoshana Felman, "Women and Madness," 4. 


Finally, whatever the approach, and of course several others can be 
imagined, several difficulties arise immediately, difficulties that cut so 
deep that even the most immediate and, dare I say?, elementary task of 
scholarship, the delimitation of the corpus and the etat present of the 
question, is bound to end in confusion, not necessarily because the 
bibliography is so large but because it is impossible to fix the boundaries. 
Of course such predictable difficulties have not prevented many writers 
on theology or biblical studies or feminism from proceeding along 
theoretical rather than pragmatic lines, often with great success. I would 
argue, though, that in all cases this success depends on the power of a 
system -philosophical, religious, ideological - that invariably remains 
implicit but that determines an a priori conception of what is "theological" 
or "biblical interpretive" or "feminist" by starting out from the premises 
of the system rather than from the thing itself - the theological thing, the 
biblical studies thing, the feminist thing - if such a "thing" indeed exists. 
This last qualification is of course a real question which in fact accounts 
for the predictability of the difficulties I have alluded to: if the condition 
of existence of an entity is itself particularly critical, then the theory of this 
entity is bound to fall back into the pragmatic. The difficult and 
inconclusive history of these systems - theology, biblical studies, 


feminism - suggest that this is indeed the case: the attempt to treat 
theology or biblical studies or feminism theoretically may as well resign 
itself to the fact that it has to start out from empirical considerations. 

A Question of Style 

Cette voie est la seule formation que 
nous puissions pretendre a 
transmettre a ceux qui nous suivent. 
Elle s'appelle: un style. 

-Jacques Lacan, Ecrits (458) 

To begin. . . To confess. . . 

I am seduced by Luce Irigaray: by her oeuvre, her voice, her lips, her 
body, the textual /sexual /contextual inscribing and inscription. By her 
style. By her "rhetorical conduct." 2 1 like not only the opening I sense her 
theorizations make possible, but also the scandal they have caused; I like 
not only what she says, but how she says. And it is this reading-effect, the 
shape of this how, as distinguished from the what, from any straight- 


Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine, 163. Is this so, then, of any g*d- 
talk, any discipline?, I wonder, after Foucault. 


forward theoretical enunciation, that I propose primarily to explore. This 
seduction, this call to reading, is an introduction/ 
induction /indoctrination into a training or discipline that does not 
present its reader with theories and systems to be analyzed and critiqued 
but, rather, that suggests in its style different ways of thinking and 
engaging, that offers the possibility, even, of re-examining how (and what) 
we read, how (and what) we think, how (and who) we are. Luce Irigaray's 
call is for a type of reading (and writing) that engages in active 
interpretation which is not only the product of traditional philosophical 
rationality but which is also a process that is sensuous and bodily. It is a 
way of reading that opens onto the other of a text. Why is her text so 

Luce Irigaray confesses to the fact of her own seduction. In answer 
to her imaginary interrogator's question, "What method have you 
adopted for this research?," Luce Irigaray claims that "the option left to 
[her] was to have a fling with the philosophers" 23 : that is, to enter into a 
lovers' discourse, in which "the lover is not to be reduced to a simple 
symptomal subject, but rather that we hear in the voice what 
is... intractable" 24 ; to become, for instance, Nietzsche's Marine Lover. This 

13 Luce Irigaray, "Questions," in This Sex, 150. 

24 Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse: Fragments, 3. 


fling is double (dichotomous?): the first part is mimicry, playing her role, 
"destroying] with nuptial tools/' mirroring and serving as mirror for the 
subject; the second part is irony, what doesn't fit into the first economy, 
what is left over, the supplement of blood and waste and divinity, non- 
oneness, non-representation, "the other of sameness." 25 With her double- 
edged love letters to the philosophers, Luce Irigaray intro(sed)uces a new 
mode of inter(textuality)course. She whispers allusively: in "The 
Fecundity of the Caress/' an intimate description of her textual 
relationship with Levinas, or L'oubli de Yair, her double-mimetic 
deconstruction of Heidegger, or "Divine Women," ostensibly her reading 
of the Melusine myth and Feuerbach, proper names appear only buried in 
the texts, if at all. 26 She executes a double gesture of taking up an other 
position, of attempting to speak from the other side, and also of 
appropriating another's text by reproducing it in a debilitating way. She 
engages in passionate dialogue with texts and also accuses them of 
violence, of violating her. 

Luce Irigaray, "Questions," in This Sex, 151-52. 
" b Note her engagement with Nietzsche in Marine Lover. Of Friedrich Nietzsche, for instance. 
Except for the title, Luce Irigaray does not mention Nietzsche's name until the last few pages of 
the book. One of the major texts to which she is in relation thus is kept unnamed, as if in the 
position of women in philosophy and history. Similarly, the name of Jacques Lacan, her 
analyst, her training analyst, her maitre, is never mentioned in Speculum, her most sustained 
discourse on psychoanalysis. Perhaps it was this strategic move, this mimesis of Freud's and 
Lacan's relegation of the question of the feminine to the margins of discourse, that got Luce 
Irigaray booted from Lacan's Ecolefreudienne. 


Luce Irigaray's style, deploying her double mimesis, is at once 
"literary-romantic" and "recognizably reasonable," an exemplum of a 
style of philosophizing summoned up by the general critique of 
humanism in France. 27 Rhetoric assumes an aggressive role in her prose; 
Spivak writes that "the writing of the woman called Luce Irigaray is 
written like writing and should be read that way." 3 The foregrounding of 
rhetoric in her writing reminds us that textuality is a practice, not a meta- 
practice. When we try to say what we do when we read, we tend to give 
rules or phenomenologic descriptions that misapprehend our practice. 
The idea that practice is to some extent ineffable - that, for instance, 
textuality wouldn't be the given topic for a thesis - indicates that our own 
textual practices are ineffable to ourselves, that the lenses through which 
we see our world remain invisible to us. This means, then, for example, 
that the discipline called Textual Methods is dangerous, since it implies 
that we know what it is we do when we perform a textual analysis. Text 
can no longer be thought of as representation except to the extent that 
those who produce texts generate a discourse of their representationality, 
but that is a descriptive finding about a text. A reading's position is not 
one of Seeing the Truth. Rather, the text can set an example which the 

17 Spivak, "French Feminism Revisited, Ethics and Politics," in Feminists Theorize the Political, 74. 
Ibid., 75, my emphasis. 


reader can choose to follow, a scenario not unlike cajoling someone new 
to the water to swim: here, move in the way that seems to me to work 
best; let me show you this. In either case, can one say how she reads, or 
how to read, or how she knows how to read? The reader is always liable 
to the same problem of ineffability as their objects. When we generate a 
theory of our practice, that is all we have done, however interesting; that 
generation, a "methodology," is, itself, another practice. Such 
considerations enable us to get at another set of questions: what are the 
ideas that are doxic or beneath the threshold of discussability? In other 
words, what kind of things do we think we are doing such that we 
imagine we could develop at method, much less a whole line of thinking 
called methodology? Further, what do we think knowing is, such that we 
could develop a branch of thinking called epistemology? 

The seduction of the text is mutual, afolie a deux, both "partners" 
participants, both subject and object. Codifying their methodology, the 
translators of Luce Irigaray's An Ethics of Sexual Difference report that they 
"have respected these practices [of "idiosyncratic usage"] because we 
believe that it is only when Irigaray's readers engage with her textuality 
that they fully experience what she is 'saying.'" 29 How, then, will I 

Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill, Translators' note, in An Ethics of Sexual Difference, viii. 
They go on to comment that "typography and format are such significant elements in the 
Irigarayan text.... [E]xtra spacing is often used to mark pauses for reflection, stages in the 


respond to what Luce Irigaray is "saying"? What shape will this 
exploration take? What form will my response to her seduction - that is, 
what form will my seduction - take? 

Much of my technique will be mimetic, my approach a mirrored- 
back intro(sed)uction, intended not so much as mimicry as hom(m)age, 
worrying over and teasing out the ways in which Luce Irigaray opens up 
the discussion of representing the other - and the possibilities that are at 
the same time closed off. I shall be wondering, then, in what ways is the 
possibility of interpreting "otherwise" enacted - and what is 
simultaneously excluded from the process of reading? And what is 
theological, or divine, about this movement of enactment and exclusion? 

My hermeneutic framework will be an Irigarayan reading of Luce 
Irigaray, a setting-beside, a sitting-beside, to see what happens. 
Mimicking Luce Irigaray, "I shall be talking more or less freely." My 
interpretation will be "at times... like a children's story." 30 Like the 
experience of fiction, like Luce Irigaray's prose, my thesis plays on the 
stratification of meanings, narrating one thing as a way - as perhaps the 
only possible way - to tell something else; it delineates itself in a language 
from which it continuously draws effects of meaning that cannot be 

unfolding of the argument, or parallelisms in the marshaling of examples in support of a 


Luce Irigaray, "Belief Itself," in Sexes and Genealogies, 25. 


circumscribed or checked. It is "metaphoric"; it moves elusively in the 
domain of the other. As de Certeau points out, "knowledge is insecure 
when dealing with the problem of fiction; consequently, its effort consists 
in an analysis (of a sort) that reduces or translates the elusive language of 
fiction into stable and easily combined elements/' * Adding my 
admittedly one-sided story to Luce Irigaray's, what can be constructed 
without evaluating her text as a reading of whomever she purports to be 
reading - or mine? Is it appropriate to hold Luce Irigaray's text accountable 
as a reading of Melusine, Feuerbach, Levinas, Freud, Nietzsche? It is in 
the engagement of this folie a deux, this falling in love, that I come to 
articulate my own reading, my own theology. 

Seduction is a site where Luce Irigaray's two gestures meet. 
Checking her-self in the mirror, woman constitutes "a fabricated other 
that [she] will put forth as tool of seduction in [her] place." 32 The rest has 
yet to be unmasked, unveiled, or veiled, apart from the masculinized 
gaze. How does this description fit Luce Irigaray the writer? And how can 
one get at the crucially interrelated questions: not only how does one read 
Luce Irigaray, but how does Luce Irigaray read? 

31 Michel de Certeau, Heterologies, 202. 

52 Luce Irigaray, "Femmes Divines," in Sexes and Genealogies, 77. 


Reading Luce Irigaray 

"[Luce Irigaray 's] reenactment of 
philosophical error requires that we 
learn how to read her for the 
difference that her reading performs.' 
-Judith Butler 33 

"I set out to explore Irigaray's anatomy not as referential body but 
as poetics, and I come to find precisely what I was seeking," writes one of 
Luce Irigaray's most devout readers, Jane Gallop. 34 Do we not, indeed, 
always find what it is we set out seeking? Do we not read only our needs, 
our desires? In my dance toward and around Luce Irigaray's body of 
work, I have tried various approaches - and, indeed, engage many of 
them here. Beyond reading her work and critiques of it, I first made 
contact with Luce Irigaray via electronic mail, seeking some clearer, 
closer, less mediated connection. And then more: I met her, at the 
occasion of a philosopher's funeral. And so I have wanted, beyond my 
conceit of referring to her sexed name, of using this "personal" association 

33 Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter, 37. 

Jane Gallop, Thinking Through the Body, 94. 


in order to credential my reading, to stretch this acquaintance to approve of 
my interpretation - of, say, piecing together an "interview" out of the 
moments of our interaction. But this desire has led me to reflect the ways 
artifactuality has become internationalized - the actuality effect 
monopolized, artifactual power centralized in order to create events - and 
the ways in which it may be accompanied by advances in so-called live 
communication, taking place in so-called real time, in the present. The 
theatrical genre of the "interview," for instance, is a propitiation, at least a 
fictive one, of this idolatry of immediate presence and live 
communication. And so newspapers will always prefer to publish an 
interview, accompanied by photographs of the author, rather than an 
article which will face up to its responsibilities in reading, criticism, and 
education. How can we carry on a critique of the mystifications of "live" 
communication - videocameras, satellite connections, MOOing, etc. - if 
we want to continue making use of it? In the first place, by continuing to 
point out, and argue, that live communication and real time are never 
pure: they do not furnish us with intuitions or transparencies, or with 
perceptions unmarked by technical interpretation or intervention. They 
are not perspective-free. And, of course, any such argument inevitably 
makes reference to a philosophy of interpretation. Further, Luce Irigaray, 


in keeping with the dialectical emphasis of her thought and production, 
resolutely resists elaborating what she calls "a metadiscourse of Luce 
Irigaray." As she says, "to offer commentary of a reflexive, critical sort" 
on her own writing would be to subject it to precisely the kind of logical 
formulization that forecloses dialogue and precludes the representation of 
sexual difference. In order to keep her text always open, she attempts to 
situate it "at the crossroads of a double mise en forme," at or as the 
encounter between a literary formalization and a logical formalization 
and thus assimilable to neither. Her persistent interrogative constructions 
serve a comparable intent: the text is always open "onto new sense, onto 
future sense, and onto a potential 'You/ a potential interlocutor." 3 

Not that I'm taking the moral high road in interpretation by 
eschewing the "interview" form or some other narrative device: and then 
she said. . . For, of course, the choice of her texts, the choice of others texts, 
already so situates my interpretation that I cannot begin to "see" anything 

The reading of Luce Irigaray - that is, both the fact and the mode of 
reading her work - is "highly contested" and "controversial." 36 That 

55 Elizabeth Hirsh and Gary A. Olson, '"Je-Luce Irigaray': A Meeting with Luce Irigaray," in 
Hypatia, 96. 

6 Frances Oppel, "'Speaking of Immemorial Waters': Irigaray with Nietzsche," in Nietzsche, 
Feminism and Political Theory, 107, and Margaret Whitford, "Rereading Irigaray," in Between 


contest and controversy are on various fronts. First, there is the difficulty 
of placing her. As a feminist, a psychoanalyst, a powerful writer, and as a 
philosopher, Luce Irigaray cannot be situated very easily; "she is forever 
in between different fields, disciplines, levels of experience, and places of 
enunciation." 37 Luce Irigaray 's writing is prophetic, oracular. Her 
prophecies are often appropriately dark; veiled in obscurity, they signal 
an intuition that a turning point in western culture may have been 
reached on account of what, one hopes, might be the beginnings of the 
(possibility of the) unrepression of the feminine. Luce Irigaray through 
the practice of her writing refuses the fiction /theory opposition, and in 
doing so refuses the authorial and authoritative subject/object opposition, 
in favor of an intertextual corps-a-corps. She does not argue a hypothesis, 
as theory does, but, more in a manner of fiction or poetry, demonstrates 
or enacts effects through the use of a battery of rhetorical strategies: 
repetition, polyvocality, allusion, ambiguity, contradiction, sensuous 
diction, mimicry, parody and irony, open-endedness. It is a mise en cause. 

What do I mean by reading her? Her text? Her texts? Her career? 
Her reception? Her effect? She is much like Lacan, most of the other recent 
thinkers in whose debt she is, who trained her, and to and against whom 

Feminism and Psychoanalysis, 106. Diana Fuss looks critically and at length at the attacks on Luce 
Irigaray's work; see Essentially Speaking, 56-58. 
37 Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects, 129. 



she positions her writerly endeavor. Her writing has provoked serious 
questions of canonicity and of reception - what is it? where does it "fit"? 
And these questions are as often a matter of tossing about a hot potato as 
they are competition to claim a favorite fruit. Because of her project of 
demonstrating the morphological marks of maleness imprinted on the 
imaginary of dominant western culture, feminists have given their 
attention, though many have come away with the sour taste of 
essentialism in their mouths. 39 

While it is not at all clear how her texts should be read, it is clear 
that whatever reading one adopts, her analysis and strategy are not of the 
kind which impose themselves without considerable discussion - that is, 
contest and controversy. Luce Irigaray never sums up the meaning of her 
text or of any text on which she comments, "nor binds all her 
commentaries, questions, associations into a unified representation, a 
coherent interpretation. Her commentaries are full of loose ends and 

Which academic departments, for instance, consider Luce Irigaray a "subject"? It varies from 
institution to institution: French, Philosophy, Women's Studies, Religion.... Or in which section 
of the store are her books shelved? There is a range here, too: I have seen them in 
Women's/Gender Studies, Philosophy, Gay/Lesbian Studies, Psychology, and Literary 

!9 Luce Irigaray clearly answers the charges of her universalism/essentialism: "I can answer 
neither about nor for 'woman.' If in some way I were to claim to be doing this - acceding to it, 
or demanding to do it - 1 would only have once again allowed the question of the feminine to 
comply with the discourse that keeps it repressed, censured, misunderstood at best. For it is no 
more a question of my making woman the subject or the object of a theory than it is of 
subsuming the feminine under some generic term, such as 'woman.'" Luce Irigaray, 
"Questions," in This Sex, 155-56. 


unanswered questions. As a result, the reader does not so easily lose sight 
of the incoherency and inconsistency of the text." 40 "Irigaray presents 
'constructive/ poetic, exploratory texts capable of multiple readings and 
different associations. No two readings, even by the same reader, are 
identical. Her writings perform what they announce/ ,4, 

Readings of her work also take interesting forms. Lynne Huffer, for 
instance, discusses the work of Judith Butler and J. L. Austin in traditional 
critical terms, then changes form completely, and without comment, when 
she turns her attention to Luce Irigaray — competing with? imitating? 
paying homage to? seducing? 42 Why such high-spirited readings of Luce 
Irigaray's body of work? Mightn't it be that she's onto something, and that 
that something is threatening, dangerous, potentially hurtful to 
patriarchy, to western culture, to the world as we know it? Even that that 
"something" is a menace to our meaning-making systems, to the 
"ground" of our being/beneath our feet, to our bodies themselves? Luce 
Irigaray poeticizes the body that many think she essentializes; she 
elaborately mystifies the body. "The impetus for Irigaray's 'referential 
illusion' (a form of faith?) is her anxiety that we cannot, with certainty, 

40 Jane Gallop, The Daughter's Seduction, 56. 

Elizabeth Grosz, Sexual Subversions, 102. 
12 See Lynne Huffer, "Luce et Veritas: Toward an Ethics of Performance," in Yale French Studies 
87 (1995). 


anymore assume access to the referent - and some form of access, not just 
failure, is what she desires/' 43 

Of course, no narrative, and no commentary on narrative, are 
enough to produce a change in discourse. If anything they risk repressing 
sexual and affective freedom by moralizing - unless, that is, they can 
manage to create a style, unless they go beyond the utterance into the 
creation of new forms. Luce Irigaray appears to live - or, at least, write - 
by two procedures as important for setting up different norms for life: the 
analysis of the formal structures of discourse on the one hand, and the 
creation of a new style on the other. Thus in her writing there is no basic 
narrative; equally, there are no possible commentaries by others, in the 
sense of any exhaustive decoding of the text. What is said moves through 
what she calls a "double style": a style of loving relationships, a style of 
thought, of exegesis, of writing. The two are consciously or unconsciously 
linked, with a more immediately corporeal and affective side in one case, 
a more socially developed side in the other. Every text is esoteric, not 
because it hides a secret but because it constitutes the secret: that which has 
yet to be revealed is never exhaustively revealable. The only response one 
can make to the question of the meaning of the text is: read, perceive, 

Kathryn Bond Stockton, God Between Their Lips: Desire Between Women in Irigaray, Bronte, and 
Eliot, 13. 


experience. Luce Irigaray wants her readers to ask of her text, Who are 
you?, as long as one isn't requesting a kind of identity card or an 
autobiographical anecdote. The answer, then, from the text, would be: 
how about you? Can we find common ground? Talk? Love? Create 
something together? What is there around us and between us that allows 
this? 44 

About Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler asks "How can one read a text 
for what does not appear within its own terms, but which nevertheless 
constitutes the illegible conditions of its own legibility? Indeed how can 
one read a text for the movement of that disappearing by which the 
textual 'inside' and 'outside' are constituted?" 45 

See Luce Irigaray, "Les Trois Genres," in Sexes et parentis, 192, my translation. 
45 Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter, 37. 


Luce Irigaray Reading 

...interpretation, or merely listening, comes to mean an 
act which gives the analyst mastery over the 
analysand, an instrument in the hands of a master and 
his truth. 

-Luce Irigaray 

Watch Luce Irigaray reading. Her technique, her approach, is very 
both /and. Her reading replicates what she says about woman: "she is 
neither one nor two." 47 Her reading, always, is "both at once." 48 Her reading 
itself enacts both her experience and her theory. 

This is reading of contingency, reading as contingency. Crosswise. 
Crablike. It is reading which explicitly privileges metonymy over 
metaphor, continuity over similarity. And following Luce Irigaray's 
lesson, 49 it is possible to read her descriptions of "the feminine" 
metonymically as keys to her hermeneutic framework. Ownership and 
property - acquisition, appropriation - are quite foreign to this reading; 
nearness is at its core, "nearness so pronounced that it makes all 

16 Luce Irigaray, "The Poverty of Psychoanalysis," Irigaray Reader, 84 
47 Luce Irigaray, "This Sex Which Is Not One," in This Sex, 26. 


Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking, 58. 

Her claiming the apparently biologic "two lips," always, as a metaphor for metonymy. See 
Fuss, Essentially Speaking, 66. 


discrimination of identity, and thus all forms of property, impossible." 51 
This reading method, this writing, labeled by others "Vecriture feminine, 
"enters into a ceaseless exchange of [itself] with the other without any 
possibility of identifying either. [It] puts into question all prevailing 

economies." 51 

Watch Luce Irigaray reading. Responsive to the rhetorical 
polyvalence of her "subjects," such as Nietzsche, her narrative voice takes 
up positions not so much of opposition and antagonism towards the texts 
as of continuity and comradeship-at-arms. Luce Irigaray openly confesses 
her relation to her subjects, her admiration, her love, not just for their 
subjects but for their style, their prose, and her emphasis on language - 
theirs, hers - indicates the value she places on the constitutive power of 
language. "I had the feeling that in Nietzsche, there was a new kind of 
philosophical language because of the always very dense work of the 
writing, that was often connected to the critical language. That is to say, 
through language, through the deconstruction of language, another one 
could be invented. In a way, Nietzsche made me take off and go soaring. I 
had the feeling that I was in the middle of poetry, which made me 

Luce Irigaray, "This Sex Which Is Not One," in This Sex, 31. 
51 Ibid. 


perfectly happy." 52 Like Nietzsche's, like Freud's, like Lacan's, Luce 
Irigaray's writing is a practice itself, not "hiding" some truth to be 
revealed, but the "truth" itself. It constitutes an act which it intends to 
mean. There is no need to add a gloss that knows what it expresses with 
knowing it, nor to wonder what it is the metaphor of. 

In relation to the tradition of academic philosophical discourse, 
even when it (rarely) refers to her, Luce Irigaray represents the outer 
frontier. Of course a whole line of western philosophy may be found in 
her work. Plato, Nietzsche, Feuerbach, Heidegger, Freud, Lacan, Derrida, 
all this goes through Luce Irigaray. And yet, in relation to philosophy, 
Luce Irigaray has all the roughness, the rusticity, of the outsider, of the 
peasant from the country that allows her, with a shrug of the shoulder 
and without it seeming in any way ridiculous, to say with a strength that 
one cannot ignore: "oh, please, get over yourself - come on! all that is 
rubbish..." And so this project, this approach, this attempt, this essai, this 
-piece a these, is, throughout not a trope of false modesty, but rather an 
indication of my awareness that any description, especially if it is brief, 
will oversimplify a highly complex body of work whose purpose is partly 

Luce Irigaray, Le corps-a-corps, 45, my translation. 


to throw into question the abstract intellectualized terminology required 
by such straightforward monologic description. 

Among the axes along which Luce Irigaray writes, an axial and 
axiomatic question for her, is the relation between writing as a space of 
subjective creation - pathos - and thought as a moment of elaboration and 
critical self-reflection - logos. This is one of the sites where she discerns 
irreducible and irreversible difference not only of Woman from man, but 
also of real-life women from the reified image of Woman-as-Other. As our 
present culture configures sexual difference, in the current scene of 
representation, women's otherness remains, precisely, unrepresentable. 53 
Within this arena, the two poles of any opposition exist in an 
asymmetrical relationship. "What would be inverted in sexual difference? 
Where the feminine is experienced as space, but often with connotations 
of the abyss and night, while the masculine is experienced as time. 

Luce Irigaray's overarching aim is to recombine that which 
patriarchal power separates. She calls for the melt-down of the male 
symbolic in order to provide for the radical reenfleshing of both women 
and men. She is explicit on the point that the production of new subjects of 
desire, new subjectivities, requires a massive social reorganization and 



See my extended discussion of this in later sections such as "An Ethics of Theological 
54 Luce Irigaray, "Sexual Difference," in Ethics, 7. 


It 55 

transformation of the material conditions of life. "This is no Marxist 
hangover, just radical materialism in the poststructuralist mode. 

Luce Irigaray takes as her critical object of investigation neither 
"Woman" nor women. Instead, she examines key examples of 
phallocentric knowledges - psychoanalysis and the history of idealist 
philosophy. Yet she does not simply analyze these objects neutrally or 
indifferently. Her readings of philosophical texts demonstrate not simply 
male 'bias' or 'domination' at the level of theory, for such terms imply the 
possibility of a corrected, 'purified,' unbiased knowledge, but rather they 
act out the deeper implications of phallocentrism(s), their representations 
of women and femininity in terms that are chosen by and affirm 
masculinity. Phallocentrism, however, is not limited to men's 
representations of women but must also include the elision of any 
maleness or masculinity in the perspectives and enunciative positions 
constitutive of knowledges, an isomorphism of theory with male (socio- 
historical) bodies. 

Luce Irigaray spells out how the supposedly neutral, sexually 
indifferent or universal status of knowledges or truths hides the , 

specifically masculine interests that produce them. If men have in part 

Rosi Braidotti, "Feminism by Any Other Name," in More Gender Trouble: Feminism Meets 
Queer Theory, differences 6 (Summer-Fall 1994), 54. 


rationalized their domination of the production of knowledges by 
claiming their interests are universal or sexually neutral, this is only 
because they rely upon a culturally inscribed correlation of men with the 
category of mind and of women with the category of body. Men are able 
to dominate knowledge paradigms because women take on the function 
of representing the body, the irrational, the natural, or other 
epistemologically devalued binary terms. By positioning women as the 
body, men can project themselves and their products as disembodied, pure, 
and uncontaminated. Luce Irigaray's project consists in part in returning 
the male body to its products. 

This implies that knowledges must be seen as perspectival, partial, 
limited, and contestable products, the results of historically specific 
political, sexual, and epistemological imperatives. Prevailing knowledges, 
in being recognized as male and as representing men's perspectives, are 
not thereby rendered redundant or useless (though this may be the effect 
on some), but are instead limited to a narrower, more constricted position 
- as partial views, commensurable or incommensurable with other 
perspectives and possible perspectives. This challenges the dominant 
positions accorded to masculine or phallocenrric knowledges, and enables 


women to learn from them and from their various crises in developing 
different positions. 

Luce Irigaray's work thus remains critical of such traditional values 
as "truth" and "non-truth" (where these are conceived as correspondence 
between propositions and reality), Aristotelian logic (the logic of the 
syllogism), and accounts of reason based on them. This does not mean her 
work could be described as irrational, illogical, or false: on the contrary, 
her work is quite logical, rational, and true in terms of quite different 
criteria, perspectives, and values than those now (patriarchally, 
phallocratically) dominant. She both combats and constructs, while 
strategically questioning phallocentric knowledges, without trying to 
replace them with more inclusive or more neutral truths. Instead, she 
attempts to reveal a politics of truth, logic, and reason. She does not 
present a more encompassing knowledge, but rather a less encompassing 
knowledge, one committed to the struggles in and around specific texts 
and debates, not a new eternal truth or a final answer. In other words, her 
texts are openly acknowledged as historical and contextual, of strategic 
value in particular times and places, but not necessarily useful or valid in 
all contexts. Knowledges, however, do not simply reflect the social and 


historical contexts out of which they were developed; rather, they help 
actively to (re-)inscribe or (re-)engender the meaning of the social. 

She works strategically from a borderline or marginal position that 
is both within and beyond the bounds of existing theory. Only from such 
a tenuous and ambiguous position, she argues, can she both challenge 
patriarchal texts at their most fundamental levels and, at the same time, 
prevent the co-option and integration that patriarchal systems use to 
transform serious threats to their operations. She aims to subvert the 
ready-made boundaries between knowledges, not by ignoring them or 
pretending they do not operate but by strategically harnessing precisely 
the most tension-ridden and contrary disciplines so that the 
presuppositions of each are challenged. 56 


For instance, it is not Luce Irigaray who erects the phallus as a single transcendental signifier, 
but Lacan. 


Reading Against the Feminist Mirror: Through the Looking Glass 

. . .because on this side of the screen of their 
projections, on this plane of their 
representations, I can't live. 

-Luce Irigaray 5 


About the term feminism, Luce Irigaray responds that it is "the 
word by which the social system designated the struggle of women." She 
is "completely willing to abandon this word," because it is formed on the 
same model as the other great words of oppressive culture. 58 While she 
does maintain that in some situations it may be necessary to reclaim 
"feminism" from the dominant culture, Luce Irigaray prefers to discuss 
the struggles of women or even women's liberation movements. "She 
does not use "feminism" in her texts." 19 Might the epigraph I have chosen 
for this section, from one of Luce Irigaray's most playful and most 
critically resistant texts, "The Looking Glass, from the Other Side," refer, 
then, not only to the masculine gaze as it relegates the feminine to its 
atrophied, distorted mirror other, but also to various feminist gazes 
which, similarly, contort Luce Irigaray's words to work, or not, according 

Luce Irigaray, "The Looking Glass, from the Other Side," in This Sex, 17. 


Luce Irigaray, "Questions," in This Sex, 166. 
' 9 Kelly Oliver, Reading Kristeva: Unraveling the Double-bind, 164. 


to their needs and desires? Or should I perhaps better term the epigraph 
an epigram, for its witty, if desperate, playfulness? or an epitaph, for the 
ways in which it signals the insistent interment of Luce Irigaray's writing 
in the crypts of patriarchal epistemologies, including feminism? 

Too few readers of feminist theory take up the important question 
of location and of cultural specificity. Cross-cultural reading requires 
moments of patience, generosity, silence while the other speaks; it calls 
the readers into a stance of standing, for a moment, in an other's shoes, or 
sitting in her chair, of sleeping in her bed. Take, for instance, the question 
of what is called French feminism. Fliply, Toril Moi refers to Julia Kristeva, 
Luce Irigaray, and Helene Cixous as the "holy Trinity" of French feminist 
theory. If we read "French feminism" in our American context(s), we must 
face the problems around importation. In France, for instance, differences 
among these (and other) writers are articulated and nuanced. Further, 
each of these three is an outsider: not one of them was born in France - 
they're not even Frenchl - and "none of them claim any kind of 
unqualified relation to feminism." 60 Gayatri Spivak is one reader who 
takes cultural location into account. As she says, "feminism means 
something else in France. I really don't have much to do with it because 

60 Ibid., 163-64. 


that's very situation-specific." She reads Luce Irigaray "within the general 
tradition of French experimental writing, foregrounding rhetoric." Spivak 
acknowledges that Luce Irigaray may seem essentialist when she talks 
about women, but "only if she is read as the pure theoretical prose of truth 
- whatever that might be" - a bad Anglo-American reading habit. The 
French, after Kojeve, read Hegel and Marx with an eye to rhetoric. Spivak 
adds, marvelously turning the screw of essentialist interpretation from 
Luce Irigaray to readers of Luce Irigaray: "we know Derrida has to be 
read that way. Why do we become essentialist readers when we read 
someone like Irigaray?" 61 Francoise Meltzer too approaches the cross- 
cultural reading question with sense and sensitivity. Among the 
difficulties she observes, "there is in fact no single French (or, I would 
maintain, any other) "feminism." As soon as "French" gets put next to 
"American," or "theology" in contradistinction to "literary theory," the 
reductive binaries, not to mention essentialisms, begin to proliferate." 62 

I would suggest that the so-called French feminists have too 
frequently been lumped together by Moi and others, precisely in order to 
be dismissed. It may be, say, that some American feminists projected the 
charges of essentialism that were coming from black feminists onto the 



Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine, 17. 
Francoise Meltzer, "Transfeminisms," in Transfigurations, 17. 


French feminists. Overlooking their differences, and their theories of 
difference, some American feminists criticized the French feminists for 
their essentialism and elitism, the very charges that were being brought 
against American feminists themselves. In an essentializing move, some 
American feminists reduced the French feminists to one concept, feminine 
writing, and then projected all of the charges of excluding women onto 
their theories. Further, the differences in philosophical traditions and 
training also contribute to American feminists' persistent misreadings of 
French feminists. Freire's horizontal violence in action. 

This is thinking gender trouble. 63 This thing called feminism, 
particularly as it attempts to construct the stories of its own production, is 
caught between the desire to act and the resistance to action that threatens 
to reproduce what poststructuralists, like Luce Irigaray, call the economy 
of the same. Luce Irigaray deploys rhetorical tools which both show and 
enable feminists to show that "the difference between entities (prose and 
poetry, man and woman, literature and theory, guilt and innocence) are 
based on a repression of differences within entities, ways by which an 
entity differs from itself. 




To borrow and to contort the phrase of Judith Butler. 
Barbara Johnson, A World of Difference, x-xi. 


"Even Irigaray 's supple machinery of meaning has the effect of 
transfixing, then sublimating, the quicksilver of sex itself." 65 For Luce 
Irigaray, the logic of the west - philosophy, psychoanalysis, theology - is 
all male self-love, "hom(me)o-sexual." Luce Irigaray tries to go back 
through, into, behind, masculine imaginary, to interpret the way in which 
it has reduced those it constructs as its other to silence, to muteness or 
mimicry. She maintains that the very construct of an autonomous subject 
is a masculine cultural prerogative from which women are excluded. She 
further claims that the subject is always already masculine, that it 
bespeaks a refusal of dependency required of male acculturation, 
understood originally as dependency on the mother, and that its 
"autonomy" is founded on a repression of its early and true helplessness, 
need, sexual desire for the mother, even identification with the maternal 
body. The subject thus becomes a fantasy of autogenesis, the refusal of 
maternal foundations and, in generalized form, a repudiation of the 
feminine. For Luce Irigaray, then, it would make no sense to refer to a 
female subject or to women as subjects, for it is precisely the construct of 
the subject that necessitates relations of hierarchy, exclusion, and 
domination. "In a word, there can be no subject without an Other. 


' 5 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men, 26. 

>6 Luce Irigaray, "Any Theory of the Subject Has Already Been Appropriated by the 
Masculine," in Speculum, 140. 


An Ethics of Reading: In the Beginning... 

In this anguish, I determined to write 
about certain texts by Luce Irigaray. 

-Jane Gallop 67 

What would be an ethical reading of /relation to Luce Irigaray? This 
question comes of an acknowledgment of the project at the heart of her 
work, ethics - already, you see, an ethical reading, a reading of ethics, a 
reading of her reading of/ relation to ethics, her deeply, overtly Levinasian 
reading, putting ethics first. Titling a book An Ethics of Sexual Difference. In 
fact, following Levinas' deep reading of Heidegger, contra Descartes, 
Luce Irigaray radically posits a self that is possible only in relation to and 
recognition of the other. Respect and responsibility, not mutuality and 
dialogue. How is it possible to "decode" the "material conditions of [this] 
existence"? 68 

Any ethics must include a quest for origins /beginnings /truths, as 
construction, as practice. What is my "place"? What draws me "here"? 
My gender dysphoria. My francophilia. My interest in /experience 


Jane Gallop, Thinking Through the Body, 93. 

Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes and Genealogies, 57. 


with /devotion to Lacanian rereadings of Freud. My swooning for 
difficulty. My lifelong strong relation to strong women. But this scarcely 
scratches the surface. What are the origins of this work, this interest, of 
which you see scattered, here, parts of its trajectory, here and there, 
circumlocutorily, solecistically. 

In insisting on the textuality and origins of this thesis not in theory 
per se but in the production of a practice, in the space between origins 
and "here," I take feminism as an enabling inspiration, not as theoretical 
orthodoxy or as an authorizing new institutionalization. I situate my 
endeavor in the realm of the question de Certeau has pointed to as the 
antinomy between what he defines as ethics and what, "for lack of a 
better word," he calls dogmatism: "Ethics is articulated through effective 
operations, and it defines a distance between what is and what ought to be. 
This distance designates a space where we have something to do. On the 
other hand, dogmatism is authorized by a reality it claims to represent 
and in the name of this reality, it imposes laws." 69 In its dogmatic aspect, 
every theory is legislating. It dictates on the one hand and censors on the 
other. Practice is not censoring but merely showing what can be done, and 
done otherwise, for instance in reading, or in writing, or in the classroom 

Michel de Certeau, Heterologies, 199, my emphasis. 


with students who might be eager to acquire tools "of insight" or to 
communicate with literature as some form of artistic wisdom about life. 
Practice does not institute its laws but shows us ways (that work or do 
not work: ways whose measure is not Tightness but effectiveness) 
enabling us, as Adrienne Rich has put it, "not to pass on a tradition but to 
break its hold over us" 70 - enabling us, that is, to intervene in the 
transmission of canonic culture not just in demystifying its blind spots, its 
bigotry, and its coercive structures but in illuminating, at the same time, 
its self-critical perspectives and its own implicit (inadvertent) self- 
subversive insights. 

In another context Luce Irigaray describes an ethics of reading: "No 
surface holds. No figure, line, or point remains. No ground subsists. But 
no abyss, either. Depth, for us, is not a chasm. Without a solid crust, there 
is no precipice. Our depth is the thickness of our body, our all touching 
itself. Where top and bottom, inside and outside, in front and behind, 
above and below are not separated, remote, out of touch. Our all 
intermingled. Without breaks or gaps." 71 

Luce Irigaray is suspicious of Levinas' insistence on the lack of 
fulfillment in the ethical relationship. She is uncannily optimistic about 

70 Adrienne Rich, When We Dead Awaken, 35. 


Luce Irigaray, "When Our Lips Speak Together," in This Sex, 213. 


communion through a love that as a love becomes divine. Her interrogation 
of Levinas is traceable to a Nietzschean suspicion of the unhappiness 
potentially generated by an eschatology without hope for the fulfillment 
of the individual. From Levinas' perspective, we must constantly remind 
ourselves of our inevitable failure to fulfill our responsibility. We must 
constantly seek to do more for the Other. We can never do enough. We do 
not have much fun in "the ethical relation/' Luce Irigaray cautions that 
Levinas' emphasis on the inevitable lack of fulfillment of the individual 
allows the source of dissatisfaction of women to be ignored. No woman 
finds enjoyment in her reduction to either the good wife or the bad 
mistress. Concentration on the failure to the stranger diverts attention 
from the failure that is closer to home. For Luce Irigaray, nonsatisfaction 
may well not be ethical or "sublime": it may be explicitly "sexist." 72 

Luce Irigaray's work is best understood not as another instance of 
crude essentialism or as a politically mistaken interest in biology, but 
rather as a strategy, for denaturalizing the body by redeploying 
morphological language. "The most intimate perception of the flesh 
escapes every sacrificial substitution.... This memory of the flesh as the 
place of approach is ethical fidelity to incarnation. To destroy it risks 

72 For a similar discussion, see Drucilla Cornell, The Philosophy of the Limit, 88. 


suppressing alterity, both God's and the Other's." 73 This is not just 
philosophical or literary talk, but Christian talk, of incarnation. Luce 
Irigaray would restore the (im)possible garden, threshold moment of 
being human, where woman's sin does not make man's difficult access to 
knowledge possible. "Not perceptible as profanation. The threshold of the 
garden, a welcoming cosmic home, remaining open. No guard other than 
love itself. Innocent of the knowledge of the display and the fall." 74 G*d, 75 
here, is the condition of the subject's certitude, of the finite subject's 
identity as a law-abiding being. "God is the condition, for Irigaray, of 
having a genre." 76 The ethical issues, the essence, of her project (and mine, 
her reader) are also theological. 

All theory intersects with "real life," affects practice, at the double 
risk of consolidating the very values that it attempts to displace, on the 
one hand, and of setting up new values within the same hierarchical 
binary structures of the old values, on the other hand. Every text must be 
called to account for the ways in which it is complicit with the values that 

Luce Irigaray, "The Fecundity of the Caress," in Ethics, 256. 

Ibid., 244. 

I use this orthography to mark the inadequacy of any language to speak about g*d and 
visibly to destabilize our way(s) of thinking and speaking about g*d. See Rebecca Chopp, The 
Power to Speak, 32. Too, I considered using the term "God" under erasure, as Luce Irigaray does 
in "La Mysterique," in Speculum. In "Divine Women," Luce Irigaray comments that "the capital 
letter designates the horizon of the accomplishment of a genre, and not a transcendent entity 
which is not subject to becoming" (Sexes et parentis, 75, my translation). 

Elizabeth Grosz, Sexual Subversions, 159. 


it attempts to overturn. Luce Irigaray is trying to open philosophical 
discourse onto its other, to open the possibility of imagining doing 
philosophy otherwise. This is philosophy whose ethics is based on a way 
of valuing that is not hostile to everything different from itself, but is, 
rather, tolerant of, solicitous of, difference. 77 

"When you kiss [read, "read"] me, the world grows so large that 
the horizon itself disappears. Are we unsatisfied? Yes, if that means we 
are never finished. If our pleasure consists in moving, being moved, 
endlessly. Always in motion: openness is never spent nor sated. 


77 /• 

After Nietzsche. . . 


Luce Irigaray, "When Our Lips Speak Together," in This Sex, 210. 


Putting Feuerbach in His Place 

Is a god what we need, then? A god who can upset the 
limits of the possible, melt the ancient glaciers, a god 
who can make a future for us. A god carried on the 
breath of the cosmos, the song of the poets, the 
respiration of lovers. 

-Luce Irigaray' 


The Trinity was the highest mystery and the focal point of absolute 
philosophy and religion. But as was historically and philosophically 
shown with regard to the essence of Christianity, the secret of the 
Trinity is the secret of communal and social life; it is the secret of 
the necessity of the "thou" for an "I"; it is the truth that no being - 
be it a man, God, mind, or ego - is for itself alone a true, perfect, 
and absolute being, that truth and perfection are only the 
connection and unity of beings equal in their essence. The highest 
and last principle of philosophy is, therefore, the unity of man with 
man. All essential relations - the principles of various sciences - are 
only different kinds and ways of this unity. 80 



Luce Irigaray, "An Ethics of Sexual Difference," in Ethics, 128. 
Ludwig Feuerbach, Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, #63, 72. 


"For both Feuerbach and Levinas, God is a form of alterity 
affirming the human." 81 Not so for Luce Irigaray, in her reading of 
Feuerbach and Levinas. The Feuerbachian g*d offers the image and ideal 
of man. Luce Irigaray's project is about redefining, revivifying, what 
religion is. This "is," this having a religious attitude, includes, for her, 
having a goal or purpose, projecting into an unknown future, seeing a 
horizon. G*d is the end of an infinite becoming. Thus it is not adequate 
simply to rely on received formulas of worship which affirm a male- 
defined g*d. "The task for women is not to include themselves within a 
pre-existing image of God but to find a God for themselves." 82 Luce 
Irigaray's notion of g*d(s) and the divine is part of her general strategy of 
deconstructive textual reading of philosophical (not simply theological) 
texts in an attempt to replace a metaphysical, masculinist onto-theology, 
in which man defines, and is not in turn defined by, g*d, with the idea of 
sexual and cultural specificity. 

From Feuerbach, Luce Irigaray derives both the notion of g*d as a 
limit and perfection point of human self-completion, and the necessity of 
including both sexes within any notion of the divine. Feuerbach's holy 


Elizabeth Grosz, Sexual Subversions, 152. 

82 Ibid., 153. 


trinity of Father-Son-Holy Ghost can be read, although he himself 
precludes this, as a metaphor of the human family, a structure which is 
necessarily and essentially dependent on the position and contributions of 
the mother, as much, if not more than the father. 

Religion is the relation of man to his own nature - therein lies its 
truth and its power or moral amelioration - but to his nature not 
recognized as his own, but regarded as another nature, separate, 
nay, contradistinguished from his own: herein lies its untruth, it 
limitation, its contradiction to reason and morality; herein lies the 
noxious source of religious fanaticism, the chief metaphysical 
principle of human sacrifices, in a word, the prima materia of all the 
atrocities, all the horrible scenes, in the tragedy of religious 



Ludwig Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 197. Feuerbach puts forth a radical 
conceptualization of religious alienation. This alienation, whose formal structure is that of 
external reflection, does not consist simply in the fact that man - creative being, externalizing 
his potentials in the world of objects - deifies objectivity, conceiving the objective natural and 
social forces out of his control as manifestations of some supernatural Being. Rather, for 
Feuerbach, alienation means something more: that man presupposes, perceives himself, his own 
creative power, in the form of an external substantial Entity; it means that he projects, 
transposes his innermost essence, into an alien Being - g*d. G*d is thus man himself, the 
essence of man, the creative movement of mediation, the transforming power of negativity, but 
perceived in the form of externality, as belonging to some strange Entity existing in itself, 
independently of man. And so there is difference — a fissure separating the essence from 
appearance - only insofar as the essence is itself split in this way - only, that is, insofar as the 
essence presupposes itself as something alien, as its own Other. If the essence is not in itself 
split; if, in the movement of extreme alienation, it does not perceive itself as an alien Entity, 
then the very duality essence /appearance cannot establish itself. This self- fissure of the essence 


means that the essence is subject and not only substance. The passage from external to 
determinate reflection consist simply in the fact that man has to recognize in g*d, in this 
external, superior, alien Entity, the inverse reflection of his own essence - that is, its own 
essence in the form of otherness, the reflexive determination of its own essence - and thus to 
affirm himself as absolute subject. 

This model, in which the subject overcomes alienation by recognizing, in the alienated 
substantial Entity, the inverse image of his own essential potential, implies a notion of religion 
that corresponds to the Enlightenment's portrait of the Jewish religion (almighty g*d as an 
inverse image of man's powerlessness, and so on); what escapes such an understanding is the 
logic behind the fundamental motif of Christianity: g*d's incarnation. The Feuerbachian gesture 
of recognizing that g*d as an alien essence is nothing but the alienated image of man's creative 
potential does not take into account the necessity for this reflexive relationship between g*d 
and man to reflect itself into g*d itself; in other words, it does not suffice to ascertain that man is 
the truth of g*d, that the subject is the truth of the alienated substantial Entity. It is not enough 
for the subject to recognize /reflect itself in this Entity as in inverse image; the crucial point is 
that this substantial Entity must itself split and 'engender' the subject (that is, g*d must become 

As for the dialectics of positing and presupposing, this necessity means that it is not 
enough to affirm that the subject posits its own presuppositions. This positing of 
presuppositions is already contained in the logic of positing reflection; what defines 
determinate reflection is, rather, that the subject must presuppose himself as positing. More 
precisely: the subject effectively posits his presuppositions by presupposing, by reflecting 
himself in them as positing. Take two obvious examples, the Monarch and Christ. In the 
immediacy of their lives, subjects as citizens are, of course, opposed to the substantial State 
which determines the concrete network of their social relations. How do they overcome this 
alienated character, this irreducible otherness of the State as the substantial presupposition of 
the subjects' activity - positing? 

The classical Marxist answer would be that the State as an alienated force must wither 
away, that its otherness must be dissolved in the transparency of non-alienated social relations. 
The Hegelian answer is, on the contrary, that in the last resort, subjects can recognize the State 
as their own work only by reflecting free subjectivity into the very State at the point of the 
Monarch; that is, by presupposing in the State itself - as its quilting point, as a point which 
confers its effectivity - the point of free subjectivity, the point of the Monarch's empty-formal 
gesture: "This is my will...." 

This dialectic makes neatly clear the necessity behind the double meaning of the word 
subject: 1) a person subject to political rule; 2) a free agent, instigator of its activity. Subjects can 
realize themselves as free agents only by means of redoubling themselves, only insofar as they 
project, transpose, the pure form of their freedom into the very heart of the substance opposed 
to them, into the person of the subject-Monarch as "head of the State." In other words, subjects 
are subjects only insofar as they presuppose that the social substance opposed to them in the 
form of the State is already in itself a subject (Monarch) to whom they are subjected. 

To supplement: the empty gesture, the act of formal conversion by means of which 
substance becomes subject, is not simply dispersed among the multitude of subjects and as 
such proper to each of them in the same manner; it is always centered at some point of 
conception, in the One, the individual who takes upon himself the idiotic mandate of 
performing the empty gesture of subjectivation - of supplementing the given, substantial 
content by the form of "This is my will." This is homologous with Christ: the subjects 
overcome the Otherness, the strangeness, of the Jewish g*d not by immediately proclaiming 
that g*d their own creature but by presupposing in g*d itself the point of incarnation, the point 
at which g*d becomes man. This is the significance of Christ's arrival, of his "It is fulfilled!": for 
freedom to take place (as our positing), it must already have taken place in g*d as man's 


Does Luce Irigaray's use of Feuerbach allow her to generate a 
discourse on g*d that differs importantly from the phallocentrism she 
critiques? Certainly she plays her two conceptions of g*d against each 
other, contrasting the g*d of man who is stable, immutable, and singular 
with the g*d of woman who is fluid, infinitely open, and capable of 
holding the endless variety of goals that woman might conceive for 
herself. But these two g*ds nonetheless bear a remarkable resemblance to 
each other. Both are, according to her reading of Feuerbach, the product 
of a projected desire; they are each the term of gender's becoming and in 
this regard function to secure the infinite horizon of accomplishment 
which the finite human will needs to survive and grow. And, though 
Luce Irigaray points out that the specific contours of each gender's 
horizon are different, the g*d who is this horizon in each case serves the 
human will by taking on, as mirror, the attributes of the concrete human 

incarnation. Without it, subjects would remain forever bound to the alien substance, caught in 
the web of their presuppositions. (Too, this is a chilling reminder of the importance of Levinas' 
perspective, for instance, as absolutely necessary ethical corrective to Feuerbach's 
Enlightenment-Christian-based anti-Semitism.) 

The necessity of this redoubling explains why the strongest instigation to free activity 
was procured by Protestantism - by religion putting so much emphasis on predestination, on 
the notion that everything is already decided in advance. Too, this allows clearer formulation 
to the passage from external to determinate reflection: the condition of our subjective freedom, 
of our positing, is that it must be reflected in advance into the substance itself, as its own 
reflexive determination. For that reason, Greek, Jewish, and Christian religions form a triad of 
reflection: in Greek religion, divinity is posited in the multitude of beautiful appearance (which 
is why, for Hegel, Greek religion was religion of the work of art); in Jewish religion, the subject 
perceives its own essence in the form of a transcendent, external, unattainable power; in 
Christianity, human freedom is conceived as a reflexive determination of this strange 
substance, g*d, itself. 


subject creating the Divine. It thus appears that the g*d of Man and the 
g*d of woman, although generated from different morphological 
economies, share origins: the productivity of a consciousness that creates 
g*d in his or her own image. 

Beyond the Mirror: Wounded, Abandoned, Leftover 

I have been trying for years to understand the 
relations I have lived - relations between 
spirituality and desire, between sex and 
sorrow, between gendered lack and escape 
through wounds. 

-Kathryn Bond Stockton 84 

Women and other culturally disenfranchised people are abandoned 
outside symbolic order; they lack mediation in the symbolic for the 
operations of sublimation. In relation to hegemonic kyriarchal culture, 
they are without hope, help, or refuge. They exist in a state of dereliction, 
abandoned by g*d. "VJhat is in excess with respect to form -for example, the 
feminine sex - is necessarily rejected as beneath or beyond the system currently 


Kathryn Bond Stockton, God Between Their Lips, xv. 


in force." 65 Woman does not exist in the eyes of discursivity, except in 
silent, eloquent trace, whisper: g*d. 

What is Luce Irigaray doing in her work? She wants ''not to create a 
theory of woman/' 86 but to open a world of difference that would be safe 
for the feminine - for women and all people. That difference - 
masculine /feminine - has always operated from the inside of systems 
that are representative, self-representative, of the masculine subject. 
These systems have produced many other differences that appear 
articulated to compensate for an operative sexual indifference. But "one 
sex and its lack, its atrophy, its negative, still does not add up to two." 87 
She says over and over: the feminine has never been defined - cannot be 
defined - except as the inverse, the underside, of the masculine. Luce 
Irigaray urges that for woman it is not a matter of cozying up within this 
lack, this negative, even by denouncing it, nor of reversing the economy 
of sameness by turning the feminine into the standard for sexual 
difference, but rather it is a matter of trying to practice that difference. 
Hence her questions, and mine: what other modes of reading or writing, 
of interpretation and affirmation, might we establish in a culture of sexual 

Luce Irigaray, "The 'Mechanics' of Fluids," in This Sex, 110. 
Luce Irigaray, "Questions," in This Sex, 159. 
87 Ibid. 


difference? How do we avoid reducing difference, any difference, all 
difference, "once again to a process of hierarchization? Of subordinating the 
other to the same?"** 



II. The Shape of Divinity 

Respect for God is possible as long as no one 
realizes that he is a mask concealing the fact 
that men have taken sole possession of the 
divine, of identity, and of kinship. 
-Luce Irigaray 89 

Reading Theology? 

[My enterprise is not to answer questions but] 
to pursue their questioning, to continue to 

-Luce Irigaray 90 

I take Luce Irigaray's interest in theology as central to her project. 
Given her reading methods, that her remarks on theology are scattered 
and enigmatic does not imply that she has only a casual interest in 

Luce Irigaray, Sexes and Genealogies, v. 
90 Luce Irigaray, "Some Questions," in This Sex, 119. 


theological issues. She returns to the question of g*d "persistently and 
rigorously/' 91 and she posits significant linkages among: 

• the question of ethics, based on her reading of Levinas' notion of ethics 
as an encounter with alterity; 

• her notion of g*d and the divine, derived from her readings of 
Feuerbach, Marx, Levinas, and Schiissler Fiorenza, among others; 

• her conceptualization of sexual exchange, based on irreducibly 
different sexes as partners. 

• her understanding of the elements or the elemental, grounded in her 
reading of Empedoclean ontology and Merleau-Ponty; 

Luce Irigaray understands the all-pervasiveness of religious 
influences in the modern west and our complicity, our collusion, willy- 
nilly, in those systems. "Many of us are under the impression that all we 
have to do is not enter a church, refuse to practice the sacraments, and 
never read the sacred texts in order to be free from the influence of 
religion on our lives." 92 But we delude ourselves; we are all flushed with 
the christian and other traditions in the art, philosophy, and myths we 
live by, exchange, and perpetuate, often without our realizing. And we do 

Serene Jones, "This God Which Is Not One," in Another Look, Another Woman: Retranslations of 
French Feminism, 121. 
2 Luce Irigaray, "Religious and Civil Myths," mje, tu, nous, 23. 


ourselves a disservice by leaving " religion" to the side. "The passage 
from one era to the next cannot be made simply by negating what already 
exists." 93 

Luce Irigaray is a theological revolutionary, aiming to subvert the 
monologic discourses of law and authority and truth as one and unified, 
and to liberate the heterogeneity of desire. From her perspective, from her 
theological articulation, g*d fills the empty place that male perceives in 
female, and thus man keeps his homological, homosexual system intact by 
incorporating the mother /female as mirror or shadow, in effect refusing 
to share the membrane or to acknoweldge difference. Her interest in 
"jamming the theoretical machinery itself" 94 is to make clear those 
supremacist forces which are a "covering up of the forcefulness, of force 
itself, of desire, of pleasure, under the lawmaking power of discourse." 95 
Against this male-father-g*d, who mythologically killed the Mother to 
take power, Luce Irigaray wonders "if there is not some fluidity, some 
flood, which could overturn the present social order? For if we make the 
foundation of the culture move, everything will move." 96 Which is precisely, 

93 ibid. 



Luce Irigaray, "The Power of Discourse," in This Sex, 79. 
Luce Irigaray, "Questions," in This Sex, 163. 

96 Luce Irigaray, "Les femmes-meres," in he corps-a-corps, 81, my translation. 


of course, why the resistance to revolution in the name of feminism is so 

Luce Irigaray fleshes out her call for a faith revolt in her reading of 
Nietzsche, arguably the most and the least theological of philosophers. 
"G*d itself is divided between the most immutably fixed and the most 
lightly airy, between the least and the most porous. Inside the ark, God is 
to be found in the place that is left empty between. In the between that 
has yet to occur. In the still possible between/" 7 She poses this not-yet g*d 
of difference and freedom: "perhaps a certain kind of divine has never 
taken place, even though it has been heralded. One that is coming. Not 
eternally deferring its coming, but expecting the expectation of the other 
before it presents itself, offers itself. Penetrates the other lovingly. Dwells 
in the other, without taking over. And receives, in return. 


Luce Irigaray, Marine Lover, 175. 
98 Ibid., 182. 


Theology and Theory 

It is a damaging and self-defeating assumption 
that theory is necessarily the elite language of 
the socially and culturally privileged. 

-Homi Bhabha 99 

The issue, then, for Luce Irigaray, is not one of elaborating a new 
theory of which woman would be the subject or the object, but of 
"jamming the theoretical machinery itself," of suspending its pretension 
to the production of a truth and of a meaning that are excessively 
univocal. This presupposes that women do not aspire simply to be men's 
equals in knowledge, that they do not claim to be rivaling men in 
constructing a logic of the feminine that would still take the onto- 
theological as its model, but rather that they want to wrest the question 
and prerogative of "theory" away from the economy of the logos. 

Luce Irigaray, "feminist theologian of lack," 100 who has "alluded 
frequently - if unobtrusively - to religious or spiritual themes for 
years," 101 seems in some ways to "get down to it" in her 1984 lecture 
"Divine Women." There she qualifies the usually philosophic enterprise 



Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 19. 

Kathryn Bond Stockton's term; see her God Between Their Lips, throughout. 
Phillipa Berry, introduction, in Shadow of Spirit, 4. 


of genealogy, a term she uses through Nietzsche and Foucault, as "our 
generic incarnation," our incarnation in the female gender, with 
enormous, if not immediately obvious, political relevance. She begins by 
reiterating that a vertical dimension is necessary for female freedom, and 
that this dimension is made up of the genealogical relation and at the 
same time of woman's relation to the divine. 102 Later, in "The Universal as 
Mediation," Luce Irigaray introduces a distinction between these two 
reference points, the divine and the genealogical, a distinction between 
g*d and ancestors. Ancestors, she says, reveal a genealogy, a history, not 
an infinite: the possibility of a feminine divine, a theology for women, is 
poised in tension between the horizon of the divine and memory/history. 

In "Divine Women," addressed in fact to an audience of women 
only, taking Feuerbach as her starting point, Luce Irigaray asserts that in 
order to attain freedom and grow in it, women must imagine a g*d, "that 
we should incarnate a God within us and in our sex, daughter-woman- 
mother." 103 Rebelling against oppression is not enough to free us all from 
the strictures of patriarchy; we must have an end (telos, goal, or purpose) 
and one or more laws. The scope, categories, and Utopias of religious 



See my discussion, yet to come, in "An Ethics of theological difference" and following. 
Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes and Genealogies, 71. 



thinking "all have been male for centuries and remain so." 104 "Women 
need a language, images, and representations which suit them - on a 
cultural level, even on a religious level, god being the philosophical 
subject's great accomplice.' 

Many of her critics ask why Luce Irigaray plants herself so 
maddeningly, densely, dizzyingly half in, half out of the collaborator's 
camp, the terrain of philosophy? Wouldn't ridding herself of philosophy 
altogether demonstrate the sort of lack of deference for the shibboleths of 
western culture she seems to advocate? She argues from both sides: you 
will never escape by staying within philosophy, by refining it as much as 
you can, by circumventing it with your own discourse and language. No. 
It is by opposing it with a sort of astonished, joyful stupidity, a sort of 
uncomprehending burst of laughter, which, in the end, understands, or, 
in any case, shatters. Yes. It is only by inhabiting the system, with an 
insider's understanding, that any alternative can be dreamt or drawn. 

At first Luce Irigaray looked to her clinical practice, to the cries of 
madness, to escape from philosophy. She then realized that she was 
escaping from philosophy, and yet not, all along, that Nietzsche, Freud, 
Lacan, Bataille, Blanchot, Klossowski...all were ways of escaping from 

Luce Irigaray, "Women, the Sacred, Money, in Sexes and Genealogies, 76. 
Luce Irigaray, "The Question of the Other," in Another Look, Another Woman: Retranslations of 
French Feminism, 13. 


and remaining within. In Bataille's violence, in Blanchot's insidious, 
disturbing sweetness, in Klossowski's spirals, there was something that, 
while setting out from philosophy, brought it into play and into question, 
emerged from it, then went back into it: something like Klossowski's 
theory of breathing is bound up with, knotted within, thread upon thread, 
the whole of western philosophy. And then by the presentation, the 
formulation, the way in which it functions, it completely emerges from it. 
Luce Irigaray discovered that such exits and entrances through the very 
wall of philosophy made permeable - and thus, in the end, derisory - the 
frontier between the philosophical and the non-philosophical, and then 
enacted that permeability in her practice and her writing. 

Theology and theory come together as striptease, as a mutual 
unmasking. "Belief is safe only if that in which or in whom the assembly 
communes or communicates is subject to concealment." 106 Theory 
threatens theology; theology decimates theory. And yet they are mutually 
implicated. Lacan writes, "here is the God of the philosophers, displaced 
from his latency even in theory. Theoria, might that not be the place in the 
world for the theo-logy?" 107 The subject-supposed-to-know is "God 
Himself," a reflection in which the knowledge of consciousness 

Luce Irigaray, "Belief Itself," in Sexes and Genealogies, 27. 
107 Jacques Lacan, "La Meprise du sujet suppose savoir," in Scilicet, no. 1 (1968), 39. 


contemplates itself - ghost, memory, dream of power, of potency, trance 
induced by the mirror's narcissistic, self-deluding trick. The subject- 
supposed-to-know, that which is invested with power and knowledge 
and godliness, exists only in delusions and fantasies. Lacan subverts this 
subject with a radical theory of non-transparency, of universal, endless 
mis-understanding. How can one construct a theory of mistake essential to 
the very nature of theory? If misprision is universal, how can one escape 
error oneself? To what can one appeal within a theory of radical 

Speaking for the Other: Reading Positions 

Positionality: I put Luce Irigaray in same relation to me that she 
puts the philosophers in relation to her. A relation of homage, but also of 
assujetissement, taking as worthy subject and also making subject, 
subjectifying. I pause. Derrida speaks in the name of/for/as a feminine 
subject in a mode of male appropriation of women's right to speak. Just at 
that moment in history when speaking as a woman finally has some 
political and theoretical credibility, Derrida, along with Deleuze and 


others, wants to occupy the very speaking position that women have 
finally produced for themselves. Luce Irigaray articulates this critique 
very clearly: 

"What I am able to say without any hesitation is that when male 
theoreticians today employ women's discourse instead of using 
male discourse, that seems to me a very phallocratic gesture. It 
means: 'We will become and we will speak a feminine discourse in 
order to remain the master of the discourse.' What I would want 
from men is that, finally, they would speak a masculine discourse 
and affirm that they are doing so. 


While this plea is understandable, it rests on two facile, problematic 


1. That one can, through a conscious avowal, acknowledge what one's 
position is. This is a basic assumption in "identity politics," which 
commonly functions in a publicly confessional mode, and in anti-racist 
calls for an authentic native voice, a voice that can speak only "as it 
is." Can one admit what one's position is? Is a position definitively 

Luce Irigaray, cited in Margaret Whitford, Luce Irigaray, 132. 


present, not only to a subject's self-representation, but for all others to 
avow and accept? Does any subject or position have the stability to 
definitively state what-it-is? Texts, speaking positions, identities 
cannot anchor themselves so readily in a definite moment of 
articulation where their consciousness exactly coincides with their 
2. The assumption exists that there is a clear-cut distinction between 
talking as a man and talking as a woman. We may be able to presume 
(possibly without a clear-cut justification) a ready distinction between 
men and women; but even if we do, it is not clear how anyone can 
constrain men and women to speak only in their own voice or as their 
sex. What would that be, anyway? "Hey, son, sit up straight and talk 
like a man." This is to ignore or misunderstand that language itself is 
the endless possibility of speaking otherwise. 

Indeed, J am spoken otherwise by my spirit guides, those 
interparadigmatic thinkers like Nietzsche, Freud, Lacan, Derrida, and 
Luce Irigaray, who in my understanding explore the nature of imitative 
desire, multi-voiced intersubjectivities, splittings and reflections of the 
self and other, confused in-mixings of subjects, objects, and the dangerous 
"abject" that not only pollutes but also subverts our attempts at mastery, 


control, and knowledge. This is not to reduce the profound differences 
among their discourses. In fact, reading them against each other brings to 
light that in creating the differences that make up their separately 
conceived "totalizing systems'' - for they each aspire to explain what is 
really going on, in the experiencing subject and in the social order that 
constructs our identities within it - they criticize each other's failure to 
peer directly into the blind spot which, ancient grail-like, we still seek. 
And this despite each discourse's insistence on the impossibility of such 
"true" (g*d's-eye) sight, the abject impossibility of attaining the position 
of "the subject supposed to know," the place where one could point to a 
constant and irrefutable meaning seen and accepted by one and all, which 
would not be always already polluted by the value-judgments which 
have constructed our world of experiencing, as if they were only facts of 
life out there for all to discover. The differences among them are the 
arbitrary differences (in the Saussurean sense: they define a matrix, a 
spatial relationship of interrelationships) within whose virtual mental 
geography we readers can wander, trying on and inhabiting the 
recognitions of ideas who feel their time has come. And if we won't 
inhabit them, cohabit with them, they will either possess or inhibit us. 


The Tale of a Snake 

Jusqu'au nombril, elle avait l'apparence d'une femme, 
et elle peignait ses cheveux; a partir du nombril, elle 
avait une enorme queue de serpent... terriblement 

-Jean d'Arras, Roman de Melusine 

Luce Irigaray keeps her distance from her texts, for fear of what? 
Lest they maim, or kill? 109 Or is it out of reverence for their sacred power? 
It is, after all, "extremely likely that the legend of Melusine/' tale with a 
perilous tail, "was a sacred text." 110 Jean d'Arras, whose name is on the first 
written version of Melusine we know, the 1392 Roman de Melusine, was 
certainly working with popular myth from Poitou. This creature "is an 
anomaly: woman, she is also man. Goddess, she is also mortal." 1 " Even 
from this (apparent) beginning, the Melusine legend has a double 
influence: a relation with Celtic mythology, and a link with the myths of 
the Mother-G*ddess. 

The story, in brief, drawn from Jean d'Arras' version and others: 
Pressine, a g*ddess who can assume human form, has three girls - 




As indeed her texts are accused of doing. 
Jean Markale, Melusine, 10, my translation. 
Ibid., 17, my translation. 


Melusine, Melior, and Palestine - by the King of Albanie/Scotland, 
Elinas. He has promised never to see her bathing, for she doesn't want 
him to know she is not human. One day he indeed sees her bathing, and 
she flees with the daughters to Avalon. For revenge the sisters, led by 
Melusine, close their father up in a mountain. Pressine, furious that the 
daughters have acted against their father, curses them. Melusine's curse is 
that every Saturday she will become a snake from her navel down, and 
that she will have to find man to marry who will promise never to see her 
on Saturdays. If she accomplishes this, she will be a human the rest of the 
time and will live and die as a human; if she does not, she will live 
forever, snake- woman. 

Melusine marries Raimondin, who agrees that she may go off on 
her own each Saturday. The first eight of Melusine 's children are born 
deformed. One Saturday Raimondin, curious about rumors that Melusine 
is a spirit, goes to find her. Finding her iron door locked, he looks through 
the keyhole. "Down to her belly, she appeared as a woman, and she was 
combing her hair; from the belly down, she had a huge snake's tail, thick 
as a herring barrel, terribly long, with which she slapped the water that 
spurted almost to the entrance of the room."" 2 Raimondin screamed, 


Jusqu'au nombril, elle avait l'apparence d'une femme, et elle peignait ses cheveux; a partir 
du nombril, elle avait une enorme queue de serpent, grosse comme un tonneau pour mettre 
des harengs, terriblement longue, avec laquelle elle battait l'eau qu'elle faisait gicler jusqu'a la 


damning Melusine to live out forever her mother's curse; to this day, a cri 
de Melusine is a proverbial expression for a sudden scream, recalling that 
which let Melusine know of Raimondin's indiscretion. 113 

This tale remains alive for us today, from Keats' "Lamia" to 
Goethe's "A New Melusine," in characters from Echidna to Lamia, 
Pandora to Medea, Eurydice to Lucine, Morgan to Lilith. Patent product 
of patriarchal culture, the story is organized around several axes. There is 
the need to explain and historicize "feminine" spirits perceived in wood, 
field, water, and house, nymphs, ondines, sprites, fairies. There is the 
curse of the mother against the daughters to punish them for attacking 
their father, marvelous illustration of women keeping each other in line, 
intergenerationally, in relation to masculine authority. There is the 
proscription against seeing the woman nude, segregation and exiling of 
the reality of feminine sexuality by the male, terrorized by the monstrous 
aspects of feminine sexuality. And there is the male gaze, organizing, 
determining, punishing, authorizing, narrating. "Patriarchy... is a myth 
which, because it doesn't stand back to question itself, takes itself to be 
the only order possible. That's why we tend to think of myths as 

voute de la salle." Translation from Jean d' Arras by Jean Mar kale, Melusine, ou V androgyne, 55, 
my translation into English. 

Similarly, in Poitiers, still, gingerbread cakes with human head and serpent tail are called 
melusines. What is the distance, I wonder, between a melusine and a madeleine? 


representing secondary realities rather than as one of the principal 
expressions of what orders society at any given time." 114 

While it is obvious that the character Melusine has relations of 
identity or similarity with many other female characters belonging to 
other legends dispersed not only in the Celtic tradition but also in other 
socio-cultural bodies, I want to stress the comparison between Melusine 
and Lilith, doubtless the most striking example of the deep presence of 
the myth in our western culture. Lilith, of course, is surrounded by 
mystery, and that makes her even more than a myth: she is one of the 
central organizing points for feminine identity in patriarchal culture. 

"Lilith," of course is practically absent from the Bible. She is 
mentioned only once, in Isaiah 34:14: "Wildcats shall meet with hyenas, 
goat-demons shall call to each other; there too Lilith shall repose, and find 
a place to rest." The Jerusalem Bible also has her in Job 18:15. Jerome, in 
the Vulgate, translated Lilith as Lamia, which must have been a 
conforming with oral tradition of his day, reinforcing the connection 
among all these myths and, unfortunately, underscoring their 
interchangeability at the hands of male story tellers. We need to revive 


Luce Irigaray, "Religious and Civil Myths," in je, tu, nous, 23-24. 


Lilith to undo the violence of western christianization, not to recover a 
more perfect time in the past, but to offer, to describe, a model. 

Melusine is perhaps distinguished from other fairy spirits by her 
serpent's tail, variously open to interpretation. For Christians, Melusine is 
the sister of these incubi against which the Church never stops fighting, 
which battle, of course, reinscribes belief in their existence. 115 The church 
finds such beliefs embarrassing today and dismisses those who believe in 
the existence of creatures who can take the appearance of beautiful young 
women and marry mortals. But these ancient superstitions are deeply 
entrenched in culture. Those who construct their theologies away from 
Rome will refuse to believe in the eternal damnation of beneficent beings 
to whom they so often have begged for help and protection. 

There is interesting ambiguity that comes from this stance, 
especially striking in the case of Melusine. In most versions - granted, 
heavily Christianized - she is a "good Christian": she goes to mass, she 
raises her children in a way based on the ten commandments and the 
chivalrous code of honor, and she even builds a church. However, she is 
serpent every Saturday, that is, the day of the Sabbath. Her real power, 
though is not in her observance of that culture which she has adopted, but 

In order to be persuaded of the vigor of this ceaseless struggle, reread the Decrits of 
Burchard of Worms, who died in 1024. 


in her faithfulness to her own culture, the curse-of-the-mother. Her power 
and her potential happiness - living as a human - is inextricably tied to 
the re-taking of her animal form. 116 In this mythic story as in so many, once 
again: woman as virtuous, woman as monstrous. 

Making Sense of g*d? 

The divine is one of the most controversial 
aspects of Irigaray's latest work, and yet 
within the context I have outlined it makes 


-Margaret Whitford 


In contrast to even her most astute readers such as Margaret 
Whitford, for Luce Irigaray, the activity of making sense is neither 
straight-forward not to be achieved. Philosophically, psychoanalytically, 
theologically, it must be all-out, dangerous, "a risk taken at every 


There is an interesting inconsistency in Jean D' Arras' version of the tale: Melusine pays her 
workers faithfully every Saturday, yet this is also the day on which Melusine must not be seen. 
Could it be that this further shows, in a vivid, irrational way, the double nature of "woman" as 
constructed by the masculine gaze of patriarchy? 

Margaret Whitford, Luce Irigaray: Philosophy in the Feminine, 140. 


moment by the poet, that seeker after a still sacred ether." 118 "Corning to 
grips" is too easy, too much a safe-making domestication by those of us 
"trained" to read texts, though the phrase clearly, insistently, has to do 
with the experience of grappling with one's own reading process. 119 Luce 
Irigaray writes, instead, that "anyone who does not go down into the 
abyss can only repeat and retrace the ways already opened that cover 
over the trace of the vanished gods." 120 The way beyond sense-making "is 
through risk, only risk, leading no one knows where, announcing who 
knows what future.... No project here: only this refusal to refuse what has 
been perceived, whatever distress or wretchedness may come of it." 121 

As Morny Joy points out, throughout her writing career Luce 
Irigaray has worked in and on religious themes. 122 For instance, she asks 
why traditional readings of the Gospels ignore stories among women, such 
as "the good relations between Mary and Anne, Mary and Elizabeth, etc., 
Mary and the other women. Even thought this corner of society does form 
a part of the 'Good News,' few texts or sermons transmit or teach its 


Luce Irigaray, "He Risks Who Risks Life Itself," in Irigaray Reader, 213. A more faithful 
translation of the title of this essay, the final section of L'oubli de Yair, which has no person in 
French, might be "S/he Risks Who Risks Life Itself." This is Luce Irigaray 's all-out reading of 
Heidegger, risking everything. 

The phrase, at least in relation to the work of Luce Irigaray, is Naomi Schor's, in her essay 
This Essentialism Which Is Not One: Coming to Grips with Irigaray." 

Luce Irigaray, "Belief Itself," in Sexes and Genealogies, 50. 

Ibid., 53. 

Morny Joy, "Equality or Divinity - A false dichotomy?," in Journal of Feminist Studies in 
Religion 6 (1):9. 






message/' 123 Or she asserts that "most of the gods of the universe start out 
as goddesses," a fact obliterated by the hostile patriarchal takeover of 
men-g*ds. 124 Thus Luce Irigaray joins with her sisters who outright 
proclaim themselves feminist theologians in suggesting ways feminist 
reflection might reconfigure our interpretation of religious myths and 
texts - indeed, our understanding of religion and of spirituality - so that 
the place of women is not eclipsed. 

However, her more recent work includes more subtle and complex 
articulations of the connections between feminism and theology, 
including her thesis that a feminist reconceptualization of divinity would 
have broad cultural significance. Many feminist theologians have insisted 
on the articulation of a feminine g*d from largely unexamined credal 
stances of personal faith in g*d. This is significant work that has begun to 
effect important theo-ethical and -political shifts. There are good reasons 
to take on androcentric religious discourse simply because it remains so 
"extremely powerful - whatever one's personal beliefs about the 
reference of transcendental statements." 125 Luce Irigaray further observes 
that "it seems we are unable to eliminate or suppress the phenomenon of 

1 23 

Luce Irigaray, "Love of Self," in Ethics, 68. 



Luce Irigaray, "Women, the Sacred, Money," in Sexes and Genealogies, 80. 
Whitford, Luce Irigaray, 140. 


religion" - taking the referent as not transcendental but as, indeed, 
referential, cultural, historical. 126 

For Luce Irigaray there are broad implications for developing a 
feminist philosophy of religion. She insists that no revision of women's 
subjectivity and identity can be achieved without the articulation of a 
feminine divine. Her argument is founded on her account of the intrinsic 
relationship between sexed identity structures and the role of g*ds as 
symbolic archetypes. Luce Irigaray goes beyond a mandate for the 
transformation of religious philosophy by feminist reflection and 
suggests, further, and more radically, that a substantial reconfiguring of 
feminist reflection is not possible without reconfiguring philosophical 
conceptions of divinity. 

G*d plays a vital role in Luce Irigaray's theories, where g*d is 
figured as the material resistance of women's bodies to the cultural 
constructions that have barred women's pleasure. She goes further, yet, 
daringly, to locate this material resistance, this opacity, in 'woman's' hole, 
where she is said to lack: "God, not 'woman,' is a crack, a lack, a gap - the 
fracture we need for conceiving new pleasures." 127 Like other terms in 
Luce Irigaray's discourse, g*d is a symbolic category - like sang rouge, or 



Luce Irigaray, "Women, the Sacred, Money," in Sexes and Genealogies, 75. 
Kathryn Bond Stockton, God Between Their Lips, 50. 


semblance, or gold - "although it is perhaps rather more difficult to 
handle, because of the enormous weight of symbolic meaning it already 
bears." 128 Because Feuerbach claimed g*d is the mirror of man, Luce 
Irigaray claims that "women lack a mirror for becoming women." 129 She 
insists that "if anything divine is still to come our way," it will come only 
by abandoning "all control, all language, and all sense already 
produced." 130 

In "Divine Women," Luce Irigaray extends her argument for a 
culture of sexual difference beyond legal, civic, and linguistic reforms to 
include the generation of a feminine divine. 131 Here she makes bold claims 
for the role of divinity in the cultivation of human subjectivity and 
society. "Divinity is what we need to become free, autonomous, 
sovereign. No human subjectivity, no human society has ever been 
established without the help of the divine." 132 Luce Irigaray asserts that 
there is a connection between the absence of an autonomous subjectivity 
for women and the fact that "woman lacks a divine made in her image." 133 

1 2H 

Margaret Whitford, Luce Irigaray, 140. 


Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes et parentis, 79, my translation. 

1 30 

Luce Irigaray, "Belief Itself," in Sexes and Genealogies, 53. 

Luce Irigaray's use of the term "sexual difference" is central to her work, yet it is variously 
interpreted. For extensive discussion of this concept and the range of (mis)understandings it 
has engendered, see Elizabeth Grosz, Sexual Subversions, xvii and 14, and Margaret Whitford, 
Luce Irigaray, 9-25. 

Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes and Genealogies, 62. 
133 Ibid., 63. 


Divinity, as Luce Irigaray configures it, is indeed the very mechanism not 
only of subjectivity but of language: "If women have no God, they are 
either to communicate or commune with one another/' 134 In her 
Feuerbachian model, g*d = the Unconscious, from which Woman is 
excluded, as Luce Irigaray argues extensively in her early writings. And 
because of this absence, this exclusion, Woman "lacks an ideal that would 
be her goal or path in becoming." 135 

Luce Irigaray argues here that symbolic g*ds play a role crucial to 
human identity, that, indeed, man is "able to exist" because of his 
identification with a patriarchal (male, paternal) g*d. 136 Further, she 
argues that no divinity and no other symbolic structure in western culture 
functions equivalently for women. Finally, she interprets the absence of a 
specifically feminine divinity as central to women's deficient identity, 
subjectivity, and community: not only deficient, that is, in relation to 
men's, but without identity, without subjectivity, and without community 
except in relation to men. In order to create a culture of sexual difference, 
Luce Irigaray states, one in which women were not "cut off from 
themselves and from one another," a feminine divine must be created. 137 

134 Ibid., 62. 

135 Ibid., 63-64. 

136 Ibid., 61. 

137 Ibid., 64. 


Of course, the suggestion of women as lacking in identity, 
subjectivity, and community has enraged many readers (and many non- 
readers) of Luce Irigaray and has set them against her, bringing about 
charges of essentialism and elitism. And while I do not wish to set about 
defending Luce Irigaray from her accusers, I must here say that I take 
Luce Irigaray's claim of Woman's lack philosophically, historically, and 
theologically - that is to say, figuratively - not as saying that women are 
not conscious subjects but rather that "the 'feminine' is always described 
in terms of deficiency or atrophy, as the other side of the sex that alone 
holds a monopoly on value: the male sex." 138 Luce Irigaray 's original 
delineation of this argument is wide-ranging and relies on her close 
readings of the representation of women in the corpus of philosophy and 


Luce Irigaray, This Sex, 69. See also, in her essay on Freud in the same volume of essays: 
"The feminine will be allowed and even obliged to return in such oppositions as: be/become, 
have /not have sex (organ), phallic /non-phallic, penis /clitoris or else penis /vagina, 
plus /minus, clearly representable/dark continent, logos /silence or idle chatter, desire for the 
mother/desire to be the mother, etc." (22). 

1 ^9 

It is persistently difficult to read Luce Irigaray outside of the quite different context of the 
Anglo-American feminist debate around essentialism. However, "when Irigaray is called 
essentialist by Anglo-American critics, she looks puzzled." Whitford, Luce Irigaray, 135. To our 
eyes, perhaps, Luce Irigaray seems to collapse all women under apparently essentialist terms 
such as "feminine identity" or "feminine subjectivity," but her analyses are far too complex and 
subtle to be understood as suggesting that all women should (or could) be represented by a 
singular, homogenizing, monolithic Identity. For reviews of the essentialist/essentialism 
controversy, see Grosz, "A Note on Essentialism and Difference," in Feminist Knowledge: 
Critique and Construct, ed. Sneja Gunew, and the essays in The Essential Difference, eds. Naomi 
Schor and Elizabeth Weed. 


One of Luce Irigaray's most devoted readers, Margaret Whitford, 
notes the frequent apparent contradictions in Luce Irigaray's writing - as 
often as she speaks against providing definitions of "woman," she argues 
that women need a "generic identity." 140 One of the ways in which I 
negotiate Luce Irigaray's contradictory gestures is to interpret her 
"identity politics" as an attempt to call into question, even to subvert, our 
very notions of what identity means. This subversion, particularly as it is 
contextualized theologically, this radical transformation of the concepts 
both of identity and divinity, is an important part of Luce Irigaray's 

In her earliest texts, Luce Irigaray argues, in ground-breaking and 
poorly understood contentions, that man's identity in terms of rational and 
positive qualities is dependent on the role of woman as "other," as 
negative alter ego, as "mirror" to the masculine. "Phallic currency can 
immediately be assumed to need its other, a sort of inverted or negative 
alter ego - "black" too, like a photographic negative. Inverse, contrary, 
contradictory even, necessary." 141 Inasmuch as masculine identity 
depends on the feminine, it can be interpreted as peculiarly fragile. 142 And 

Whitford, Luce Irigaray, 135. 


Luce Irigaray, "The Blind Spot of an Old Dream of Symmetry," in Speculum, 22. 

No wonder so many men, and many women, resist "feminism." It's a fearsome thing! 


thus, Luce Irigaray goes on, the conditions of possibility of masculine 
identity are paradoxical. At the same time, though, the feminine as 
absence and negativity seems conceptually dependent on the notion of 
masculinity as presence and positivity. The feminine as irrational appears 
to be secondary to the notion of the masculine as rational, but Luce 
Irigaray argues just the opposite: that the positive, privileged concept of 
the masculine is generated through its opposition to its "negative mirror," 
the feminine. The construct "masculine" thus both is and is not 
conceptually dependent on the "feminine." 143 The same x/not-x 
dichotomous disposition that produces from the feminine the identity of 
masculinity as presence, positivity, autonomy, and privilege also renders 
the masculine secondary to the feminine: masculine identity depends on 
its opposition to the feminine. For Luce Irigaray, the negative 
"interpretive modalities of the female function" in fact sustain the 

V 144 


Luce Irigaray takes up a second paradox in the construction of 
masculine identity as presence and positivity: woman is constructed as 
nothing but man's negative mirror but is also rendered as excess to her 
role as negative mirror. Because this present and positive representation 

143 Luce Irigaray wants to argue that the feminine is precisely what is excluded in and by such 

binary oppositions as male/female. 

Luce Irigaray, The Blind Spot," in Speculum, 22. 




of masculinity depends on its opposition to the feminine as absence, any 
intimation of a remainder to the feminine role as negative alter ego to the 
masculine destabilizes masculine identity. Luce Irigaray indicates this 
paradox: the cultural effort of producing the feminine as negative other is 
itself an indication of a possible feminine surpassing of its role as man's 
negative other. The representation that reduces the feminine to man's 
other simultaneously indicates that there is a remainder to that 
representation and thereby destabilizes itself. 

For instance, Luce Irigaray uses the metaphor of materiality to 
describe the concept of remainder. Of course, woman has been associated 
with materiality, ground, earth, matter. 146 Luce Irigaray mimics this 
association by taking the metaphor of materiality to describe the feminine 
as the matter out of which man fashions his alter ego, and goes on to 
argue that if this indeed is what has happened, then woman, as the matter 
out of which the masculine alter ego is made, must be in excess of that 
making. Woman-as-matter is in excess of any particular fashioning, use, 

"Her possession by a 'subject'... is yet another of his vertiginous failures.... Even as man 
seeks to rise higher and higher - in his knowledge too - so the ground fractures more and more 
beneath his feet," Luce Irigaray, "Any Theory of the 'Subject' Has Always Been Appropriated 
by the 'Masculine,'" in Speculum, 134. Here, the feminine ground could be said to fracture in 
the sense that, constituting the feminine as his ground, his mirror to catch his reflection, man 
simultaneously constitutes an other which exceeds and resists his projects of representation. 
Luce Irigaray also suggests that the feminine exceeds the place of negative mirror insofar as 
woman has to exercise effort to masquerade as negative mirror. See Luce Irigaray, This Sex, 84. 
16 To go to one of the sources of western philosophy, see Plato's Timaeus 51b, taken up by 
Jacques Derrida in Dissemination, 160-161. 


or manipulation of that feminine matter. Woman is conceptually in excess 
of and is the remainder of her role as negative mirror. 

Luce Irigaray does not directly argue that sexual difference is a real 
social fact and that women are simply misrepresented in terms of 
atrophy. Where she describes the feminine as exceeding its representation 
Luce Irigaray does not insist on the traditional western philosophical 
distinction between the truth of woman and the representation of woman. 147 
Instead, she argues that the representation itself is paradoxical and self- 
destabilizing - always already. Representation limits the feminine to 
atrophy but destabilizes itself by indicated the possibility of excess. This 
paradox suggests feminine-as-excess as a subversive hypothetical 
possibility, excluded from language and culture in the present moment. 148 
This critical maneuver takes place without reference to the supposed 

Significantly, in her comments on Freud's work on femininity, she does not argue that Freud 
misrepresents women but rather locates the internal contradictions which disrupt the 
coherence of Freud's account. In fact, rather than rejecting Freud's description as false or 
biased or blind, she argues that he "describes an actual state of affairs" - of representation, that 
is. Luce Irigaray, This Sex, 70. 

148 The exclusion of sexual difference destabilizes itself precisely through the effort of exclusion. 
Thinkers such as John McGowan suggest that there is a fatal dilemma for postmodern theory 
which attempts to articulate the exclusion of difference, but they are wrong. For McGowan, 
one cannot say both that nothing escapes from culture's signifying processes and also that a 
capitalist social order is not inclusive enough, for instance (John McGowan, Postmodernism and 
Its Critics, 21-23). This would suggest that it is inconsistent to argue that patriarchal culture 
excludes all sexual difference. If it has been excluded, how can we indicate the concept at all? 
But Luce Irigaray argues that patriarchal culture is based not so much on the exclusion of sexual 
difference as on the paradox by which sexual difference must be both excluded and also, but 
virtue of that exclusion, included. Thus, the exclusion of sexual difference both reinforces and 
destabilizes patriarchal culture. 


"truth " of woman and without attempt to describe what women are 
"really like" as opposed to how women are represented - as if these levels 
could be clearly distinguished. Luce Irigaray suggests it is possible to 
trace in the text of the history of philosophy not only the representation of 
woman as lack and atrophy but also the simultaneous, concomitant, 
inevitable undoing of that representation. These moments of self- 
destruction, where the text "gives itself away," occur where, in the midst 
of representing woman as man's negative other, a text indirectly indicates 
the possibility of a feminine identity in excess of that role. 

Early in her work, borrowing from both Derrida's and Lacan's 
thinking on x/not-x oppositions, Luce Irigaray takes pains to show that 
the paradoxical exclusion of any feminine exceeding feminine-as-atrophy 
is a condition of possibility of the man /woman dichotomy. In her more 
recent work, she also turns, pivotally, to the relationships between 
man/g*d oppositions and man/woman oppositions. She now argues that, 
along with the positioning of the feminine-as-atrophy, a particular 
conceptualization of g*d is also necessary to the production of masculine 


An Ethics of Theological Difference 

And if, by chance, you were to have the impression of 
not having yet understood everything, then perhaps 
you would do well to leave your ears half-open for 
what is in such close touch with itself that it confounds 
your discretion. 

-Luce Irigaray 14 

Throughout, Luce Irigaray' s texts argue that the western patriarchal 
g*d is the ideal ego. The relationship between man and this g*d is such 
that "some [male] One has taken on omnipotence as one of his attributes, 
and the child can 'fantasize' himself identical to Him - to an ideal ego." 150 
In her reading of Nietzsche, Marine Lover, Luce Irigaray writes that: 

This figure of love [Christ/ g*d] must continue to be unique, 
remaining, eternally captive to the lure of a [male] Same.... Is it not 
the pattern for the mask that completes, to the point of 
inappearance, man's identity with himself? The dream of becoming 
the self without contradictions, of reabsorbing into the self all 



Luce Irigaray, "The 'Mechanics' of Fluids," in This Sex, 118. 
Luce Irigaray, "Plato's Hystera," in Speculum, 356. 


things opposed and different, of subsuming under the self the 
transcendent of oneself. Of one day finally being divinely the self. 


Here, g*d is presented as guarantor of masculine identity, identificatory 
figure for masculine perfection. In "Divine Women," Luce Irigaray 
reformulates the same point with a different terminology: "Man is able to 
exist because God helps him to define his gender [genre]. The revival of 
religious feeling can in fact be interpreted as the rampart man raises in 
defense of his very maleness. To posit a gender [genre], a God is 
necessary: guaranteeing the infinite." 152 Through this guarantee, this 
caution, Luce Irigaray describes both the identificatory function played by 
the patriarchal g*d and also the role divine figures play in various 
traditional philosophical contexts in relation to the man of reason. 
Echoing Mary Daly and others, Luce Irigaray writes that "man has been 
the subject of discourse, whether in theory, morality, or politics. And the 
gender of God, the guardian of every subject and every discourse, is 
always masculine and paternal, in the West." 153 

Luce Irigaray, Marine Lover, 186-87. 

Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes, 61. 

Luce Irigaray, "Sexual Difference," in Ethics, 6. 


Divine figures provide the ultimate horizon toward which the 
"man of reason" moves in his pursuit of knowledge. In this search man 
displaces his material, passionate, unreliable, and sensuous nature onto 
the figure of the feminine. Both the patriarchal g*d and the feminine have 
been conceptualized to describe and to reinforce masculine identity. G*d 
provides the horizon and the feminine takes up the slack, or excess, 
representing, in body, flesh, sensuality, that from which man needs to be 
distanced in his approach toward g*d and Truth. 

Luce Irigaray's proposal, then, is that masculine identity is 
constructed both through the figure of woman as his negative alter ego 
and also through g*d as his ideal ego. Just as the role of the feminine 
destabilizes masculine identity in supporting it, so g*d's role? G*d may 
act as guarantor to masculine identity, but g*d is also its blind spot. Luce 
Irigaray insists that man, as the "Son" in relation to the image of g*d-the- 
father, can neither know nor admit "how much that image owes and 
denies to specular projection and inversion. He would already [otherwise] 
have recognized that the 'father' is that which is reproduced in him in 
order (not) to be mirrored in his absence of self: the cover over a blind 
spot in consciousness which he fails to recognize." 154 The masculine owes 

Luce Irigaray, "Plato's Hystera," in Speculum, 314. 


a debt to the divine image of the " father/' but this debt must also, always, 
be denied. In both the cases of the patriarchal ideal ego and the feminine 
other, Luce Irigaray insists that masculine identity relies on its (feminine, 
divine) foundations at the same time that it is compromised by them. 

Luce Irigaray argues that the masculine is aligned with a divine 
ideal ego of immateriality, autonomy, omniscience, and self-identity, at 
the same time that it is dependent on the identification with the divine "in 
order not to be mirrored in his absence (of self)." 155 The divine is an ideal 
of self-coincidence and self-sufficiency of which the masculine inevitably 
falls short. In order not to be mirrored in his absence of self: it is not clear 
whether the masculine identifies with an ideal (divine) mirror in order to 
be reflected as an atrophied version or in order not to be reflected as an 
absence of divine self. In other words, man is both opposed to and 
aligned with the divine. 156 As man's ideal, g*d must be simultaneously the 
opposite of man and the image of man's perfection. It is as man's opposite 
- immortal versus mortal, infinite versus finite, disembodied versus 
embodied - that g*d is figured as man's ideal. G*d thus becomes man's 

155 Ibid. 

156 This problematic can be traced to Augustine's Confessions, among other places, where man is 
both like and not like g*d. G*d serves as man's ideal of perfection. The ideal trait of man is thus, 
in relation to the ideal divine identity, the most disembodied aspect - reason or soul. Man's 
identity must also be opposed to g*d as human and material. There is, too, concurrent 
identification of women as both like man and not like man. 


absence of divine self in the same moment that g*d provides the 
impossible ideal with which man identifies. Inasmuch as masculine 
identity is constructed and kept going by impossible ideals, its 
identificatory structure is fragile. The radical divide projected between 
the realms of man and g*d is precisely what produces g*d as an ideal 
other, but it is also, precisely, what leaves man severed from his ideal. 
Luce Irigaray observes that in Plato's account of man aiming at 
contemplation of the Good, the mind's grasp can only have an intuition of 
Being, and, at that, only at the rarest and highest moments. "Being does 
not appear or even appear to appear. It slips away from the mind's grasp 
even as it forms the foundation of mind. . .. Here, then, man does not yet 
have the plenitude of Being within him, but instead a whole range of 
theoretical tools... a whole technique of philosophy and even of artistic 
practice, are being worked out to form a matrix of appropriation for 
man." 157 The problem with the man of reason's objective, represented by a 
divine ideal, is the necessary evanescence of g*d. Thus Luce Irigaray 
reads man's identification with g*d as an appropriation of plenitude, of 
divine Being: it is an appropriation - that is, it is inappropriate - because 
man privileges reason and its "tools" - "geometric, mathematical, 


Luce Irigaray, "Kore: Young Virgin, Pupil of the Eye," in Speculum, 150-151. 


discursive, dialogic" - in opposition to a devalued femininity - body, 
emotion, passions - on the strength of man's identification with a divine 
ideal, and identification which the same logic renders incoherent. 

G*d thus is fragile guarantor of masculine identity: the schism 
between man and g*d renders g*d a meaningful, transcendent ideal at the 
same moment that it leaves man cut off from his own guarantor. 
Conceptually adrift as moral limitation, somewhere between an ideal of 
being like g*d and radically not like g*d, man is promises himself eventual 
communion with the divine only on condition of transcending his 
mortality, his physicality, his embodied materiality. The promised 
becoming-immortal of man, animal prometteur, is always, already 
separated from the divine. 

This simultaneous identification with and severing from a 
transcendent ideal is linked with the appropriation of the feminine as a 
negative-feminine which sustains masculine identity. The terms 
according to which the masculine is opposed to the feminine and the 
feminine depreciated are, in fact, the terms of an ideal of which the 
masculine necessarily falls short. This necessitates the role of the feminine 
as negative other to complement, to bolster, an otherwise (but also, 

158 Ibid., 151. 


already, always, necessarily) decayed, dried up, drooping masculine 

If, as I mean to be arguing here, Luce Irigaray proposes a g*d of 
difference - sexual, ontological, theological difference - it is as "a sensible 
transcendental coming into being through us, of which we would be the 
mediators and the bridges. Not only in mourning for the dead God of 
Nietzsche, nor awaiting the god passively, but bringing the god to life 
through us, in a resurrection or transfiguration of blood and flesh through 
our language and our ethic." 159 This g*d supersedes and is in response to, 
for instance, Heidegger's involvement in pathologizing a culture he 
denounced and from which, he claimed, only a g*d can save us. This 
response, this supersession, this parousia, this horizon of difference, is of 
g*d not as distant event but as possible here and now. It opens the 
possible: of an undreamed-of fertility, a re-creation of the world. This 
second coming is not simply of a Utopian, apolitical future, but, 
emphatically, the construction by women and men in the present of a 
bridge between past and future, the conversation of women and men into 
being the bridges themselves. 160 This horizon, right around the mind's 
corner, is Luce Irigaray 's Third Era: the age of the spirit, and the bridge 

159 Luce Irigaray, Ethique, 124, my translation. 

160 Luce Irigaray, "Love of the Other," Ethics, 147. 



beyond what she terms the old testament reign of father and the new 
testament reign of the son. 1 

The end of a culture as we know it would correspond also 
necessarily to the death of g*d. Which g*d? He who forms the 
transcendental keystone of a discourse used by a single gender, of a 
monosexed truth. This would allow the return of the divine, of the g*d 
who preaches neither truth nor morality but who seeks to live with us 
and allow us to live here. The cries and words of the last philosophers, of 
Nietzsche and Heidegger, about the death of g*d are a summons for the 
divine to return as festival, grace, love, thought. "Contrary to the usual 
interpretation made of them, these philosophers are not talking about the 
disappearance of the gods but about the approach of the annunciation of 
another parousia of the divine. Which involves the remolding of the 
world, of discourse: another morning, a new era in history, in the 

universe." 162 

161 Ibid., 148. 

162 Ibid., 140. 


Woman I g*d - Re/figuration of Divinity 

Does parousia correspond to the expectation of a future not 
only as a Utopia or a destiny but also as a here and now, the 
willed construction of a bridge in the present between the past 
and the future? 

-Luce Irigaray 

Luce Irigaray contends that masculine /feminine oppositions are 
sustained by transcendent figures (of speech I Beings) through a 
paradoxical identificatory structure, and this interpretation determines 
the strategies she proposes for subverting masculine /feminine 
oppositions. Most readers of Luce Irigaray prefer to take up her strategic 
evocation of a hypothetical feminine in excess of any x/not-x framework; 
they invariably leave aside any discussion of theological aspects of this 
framework. 164 But Luce Irigaray's subversive strategies importantly (and 
increasingly) include her articulation of a relationship between the divine 
and the feminine - divine and feminine, here, especially contra their 
conceptualization by masculine identities. Luce Irigaray's critique of 
x/not-x representations of masculine and feminine includes 

Luce Irigaray, "The Invisible of the Flesh/' in Ethics, 163. 


Exceptions to this generalization are the work of Elizabeth Grosz, Margaret Whitford, and 
Morny Joy. 


reformulating the relationship of both sexes with/within the concepts of 
transcendence and divinity - in implicit recognition of, and direct 
response to, the interconnection of masculine /feminine oppositions with 
the impossible masculine ideals that traditionally sustain such 
oppositions. To answer how we adequately can analyze man's opposition 
to the feminine, Luce Irigaray frames the context of sustaining the 
opposition: the patriarchal g*d. 

Luce Irigaray interprets the fact that man and g*d are widely 
represented in terms of distance, in terms of a schism, between them, as 
the source of evil, as the original sin - hardly surprising, given her reading 
of the displacement of devalued qualities onto the feminine in terms of 
man's identification with an impossible, transcendent ideal. This 
dissociation of the human and the divine, this evil, this sin, consists "in 
making God into a distinct and transcendent entity. With the expulsions 
from the 'earthly paradise' corresponding to the will to know God as 
such. To the desire to produce him as a 'suprasensory' reality? God = 
Different? And this would be the source of evil, in the beginning." 165 The 
tragedy of man's banishment is not that he is expelled from a state of 
innocence or paradisal plentitude, but rather that he is discontinuous 

Luce Irigaray, Marine Lover, 173. 


from the g*d/ father with whom he identifies. This is tragic in feminist 
terms, not because we might lament man's discontinuity from the divine 
as such, but because the fate of the feminine as constructed by man, as 
man's other, is interconnected with man's identification with an ideal he's 
cut off from. The schism between man and g*d is the source of evil 
because this division between man and a projected transcendent ideal 
entity has been fatal for the role of the feminine as man's other. 

The projection of a mythical transcendent realm has served to 
legitimate hierarchies ranking man, woman, the material, sensory realms, 
and animals. The projection of the transcendent, the schism between the 
transcendent and the actual, and representations of man as both divided 
from and yet able to approach that transcendent realm, are supported by 
the organization of the feminine, the bodily, the material, the sensuous, 
the irrational, as man's other. Woman's banishment to the role of man's 
other happens when man's role is in the mode of being like unto g*d. Sin 
and suffering do not occur because we, women and men, are cast out of 
paradise, but because man takes on g*d as his ideal, an impossible, 
extraterrestrial, beyond-utopian ideal: "Surely evil, sin, suffering, 
redemption, arise when G*d is set up as an extraterrestrial ideal, as an 


otherworldly monopoly, when the divine is manufactured as God- 
Father." 166 

Luce Irigaray's suggestion is that any remodeling of man /woman 
relations necessarily would involve a three-way reconceptualization of 
man/ divine relations, feminine /divine relations, and of the role of the 
divine in relation to the masculine and feminine, with the divine 
imagined and understood so as, precisely, to undermine the 
human/ divine schism. If man did not identify with an impossible divine 
ideal, woman might not be appropriated as his negative mirror. The 
conclusion, then, is that the divine generally should not be figured as 
transcendent in relation to the human. Luce Irigaray understands the 
representation of the divine as continuous with the human, rather than 
severed from it, as a task central to feminism. 

Still, men and women need identificatory structures, and from this 
comes Luce Irigaray's question: do women, too, need some kind of divine 
with which to identify? If yes, it is important it not be structurally figured 
in terms like those of the patriarchal g*d. What about a relationship 
between the feminine and the divine in which women would understand 
"a divine that was not opposed to them, perhaps? That was not even 

166 ibid. 


distinct from them." Proceeding with the understanding that women in 
fact need a divine of their own, at least until the present hegemonic 
theological structures stop leaving their traces, Luce Irigaray invents a 
concept whereby a feminine divine would serve some of the functions in 
relation to women that the patriarchal g*d has served for men, without 
entailing the problems produced by man/g*d schisms. 

She deploys the term feminine divine widely. It is the wonder, the 
transcendence, that could be between and among the sexes in a culture of 
sexual difference rather than between human and divine. 168 It is a horizon, 
a limit, and opening beyond. 169 It is beauty. 170 It is a form of love, "where 
the borders of the body are wed in an embrace that transcends all 
limits... each one discovers the self in that experience which is 
inexpressible yet forms the supple grounding of life and language. For 
this, 'God' is necessary, or a love so attentive that it is divine." 171 It is that 
which women would become for themselves: women's fulfillment is 
divine. 172 It is important to keep in mind this plural sense of divinity in 

167 Ibid. 

Luce Irigaray, Ethics, 15. In brief, Luce Irigaray understands sexual difference as an ideal by 
which woman would not be defined in terms of diminished masculinity but as different from 
man in a positive sense. It is not a revaluation of traditionally feminine - that is, masculine- 
defined - characteristics such as passivity, emotionality, closeness to nature. Luce Irigaray 
tends toward a between conceptualization, entre, while I would push this toward among, parmi. 

169 Ibid., 17. 

170 Ibid., 32. 

171 Ibid., 18-19. 

' Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes and Genealogies, 71, 64. 



order to read that "women need their own divine. " Here Luce Irigaray 
does just what she did when undoing the logic of identity when asserting 
the need for women to cultivate their own identity - changing "our notion 
of what identity means" 173 - and that is, precisely, to change our notion of 
what divine means. Sometimes transcendence, limit, radical difference, the 
beyond; sometimes the between, the among, love of other-as-difference. 
The ideal of woman's identity is transformed into a new understanding of 

If Luce Irigaray argues that women need their own divine apart 
from the patriarchal western g*d, her term is far from having 
supernatural connotations. This feminine divinity is awfully close to 
woman-as-difference and to the ideal of difference among the sexes. If 
"the only diabolical things about women is their lack of a God," that thing 
is their place as lack, atrophy, and inverting, warping mirror to the 
masculine. 175 

But the interchangeability of divinity and sexual difference raises 
some questions. What is served by so redefining the term divine! Why 

Whitford, Luce Irigaray, 136. 

Luce Irigaray uses the term woman's identity to evoke an alternative to women's cultural role 
of fallen-off masculinity, not to assert the existence of an essence common to all women. She is 
profoundly onto the problems and traps of the discourse of identity politics. 

Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes and Genealogies, 64. This rich notion is a response, of 
course, to the long philosophical and theological tradition of associating woman with the 


deploy the concept of divinity, so redefined, in such contexts? Why does 
Luce Irigaray resolutely leave herself open to readers' understandably 
confused interpretations: "It is essential that we be God for ourselves" 176 - 
what?! Further, if Luce Irigaray insists there can be no substantial 
reorganization of feminine identity without a reconceptualization of the 
feminine divine, what is the difference between feminine divine and feminine 
identity? Does divine lose all specific meaning through its radical 
redefinition? Why not speak only of sexual difference? Why does Luce 
Irigaray use divine at all? 

Luce Irigaray suggests, as I've tried to show, that woman in culture 
is devalued, as negative mirror, as not being those qualities of which the 
most pure instance is the masculine ideal ego represented by the 
patriarchal g*d. In his identification with that ideal, man falls short; to 
compensate, he displaces his feminine qualities onto the figure of woman 
so as to sustain his identification. Woman, as not man's ideal, supports the 
oppositional effect of man as identified with his ideal. It is as a result of 
these complex interrelations between masculinity and its ideal and 
negative alter ego figures that Luce Irigaray insists that the subversion of 
traditional man /woman dichotomies requires a concurrent critical 

176 Ibid., 71. 


intervention into the concept of divine ideals. This is an imperative: the 
divine must be reconceptualized and refigured in order to strip away its 
connotations of schism from the human. 

Where Luce Irigaray speaks of relations between the sexes being 
divine, or of woman becoming her own g*d, divinity has evolved into yet 
another term for the ideal culture of sexual difference, where sexed 
objects would respect each other's distance and difference. Transcendence 
is located not between mortal and immortal beings but between people, 
women and men, women and women, men and men. 177 If love between 
people is described as divine, this implies an ideal relationship of difference 
from, and respect for, the other as other. In her terminological redefinition 
of divinity, the conventional characteristics Luce Irigaray retains are 
alterity and transcendence. She has stripped divinity of its supernatural 
connotations and the connotations of schism from the human, retained the 
term because of her desire to remodel and recast it, and relocated the 
conventional connotation of divinity - transcendence - to the realm of 

But there is one further role played by the conventional g*d which 
Luce Irigaray retains and reshapes for her feminine divine, and that is g*d 


I should perhaps write "wo/men," say, for I don't intend to limit the sexes to "women" and 
men/' to "female" and "male." See Minnie Bruce Pratt, S/he. 



as guarantor, promise-maker and -keeper, shaper of identity and 
subjectivity. "Man is able to exist because God helps him to define his 
gender (genre), helps him orient his finiteness by reference to infinity. 
In order to become, it is essential to have a gender (genre) or an essence 
as horizon.... No human subjectivity, no human society has ever been 
established without the help of the divine/' 179 "Man is supposedly 
woman's more perfect other, her model, her essence. The most human 
and the most divine goal woman can conceive is to become man. If she is 
to become woman, if she is to accomplish her female subjectivity, woman 
needs a god who is a figure for the perfection of her subjectivity." 180 Luce 
Irigaray wants for woman a field for the "perfection of her subjectivity," 
akin to man's horizon of perfection, a transcendent, patriarchal g*d. 
Woman needing a feminine divine means that women need a horizon of 
becoming, a field of infinite, open-ended feminine identities, in the 
context of which a woman could situate herself. 

Some aspects of this feminine divine do constitute some kind of 
equivalent to the role played by a masculine divine in relation to man. 
Luce Irigaray's divine remains a "principle of the ideal, a projection of the 


Consequently a sexuate essence... 


Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes and Genealogies, 61-62. 
180 Ibid., 64. 


(sexed) subject onto the figure of perfection, an ego-ideal specific to that 
subject/' 181 Does she repeat, as an ideal for women, the same model that 
contains and sustains masculine subjectivity, in her view? Is her 
argument flawed, if she does? Is this inevitable? What is the status that 
women would have in relation to their figure of perfection, their ego- 
ideal? In "Divine Women/ 7 Luce Irigaray asserts that the feminine would 
not be analogous in structure to that g*d which has acted as ideal ego to 
the masculine: women would not be severed from their ideal. 

"Why do we assume that God must always remain an inaccessible 
transcendence rather than a realization - here and now - in and through 
the body?," she asks. 182 She speaks for a divine that would be "an 
inscription in the flesh," so further wrenching her redefinition of what 
divinity is. 183 If sexual difference were cultivated, and genderS allowed to 
develop, then, says Luce Irigaray, gender "could mark the place where 
spirit entered human nature, the point in time when the infinite passed 
into the finite, given that each individual is finite and potentially infinite 
in his or her relation to gender [genre]/' 184 The sensible transcendental 
describes this divinity from which we are not severed: "A birth into a 

181 Elizabeth Grosz, "Irigaray and the Divine," in Transfigurations: Theology and the French 
Feminists, 63. 

Luce Irigaray, "Love of the Other," in Ethics, 148. 
183 Ibid., 147, my emphasis. 

Luce Irigaray, "The Universal as Mediation," in Sexes and Genealogies, 139. 



transcendence, that of the other, still in the world of the senses, still 
physical and carnal, and already spiritual. 

A bridge. 

Again: the bridge itself. 1 


Gender/Genre and Divinity: An Axial Approach 

Whoever writes a truth or makes a 
pronouncement, above all concerning God, 
should always add: open [ouvert(e)]. 


-Luce Irigaray 

Luce Irigaray suggests that fully, consciously belonging to their 
sexuate genre would be a means for women to situate themselves, as 

1 oe 

Luce Irigaray, "Wonder," in Ethics, 82. 

186 To revisit, a bit. The schism between man and the patriarchal g*d is especially problematic 
because it renders g*d at once more idealized (not-man) and a more fragile support of identity. 
Man is left in a state of both being and not being atrophy, identifying with an ideal rendered all 
the more powerful by the fact that he is severed from it. And this leaves women associated 
with the weaker, atrophied position, since they are appropriated as the atrophied mirror 
reflection to sustain and already atrophied masculine. Luce Irigaray explicitly rejects this 
schism between human and divine in her conceptualization of a feminine divine. It is not 
figured as an ideal ego that the feminine is at once aligned with and opposed to. The feminine 
divine indeed serves as horizon of perfection in terms of which women can identify 
themselves, but the feminine divine exists only through one's participation in it: it disappears 
with the first hint of distance, or alienation, or severance. 
Luce Irigaray, "The Invisible of the Flesh," in Ethics, 163. 


finite, in the context of the infinite, with "infinite " not meaning the 
transcendent, the supernatural, or that which women are not, but rather 
that which is open-ended, in the process of becoming. Luce Irigaray 
advances the ideal of women situating themselves in the context of the 
horizon constituted by their genre, without any ideal that women would 
definitively become or accomplish themselves, and affirms the notion of 
the infinite as that which is always in a state of becoming. In this 
reconceptualized divinity, women, and humans more generally, are 
coextensive with and participate in the infinite: infinity is another figure 
for a divinity from which women are not severed. 

While Luce Irigaray rejects the concept of transcendence in the 
context of women's identificatory ideals, with no schism between women 
and the feminine genre, as there is between man and the figure of the 
patriarchal g*d, still she retains transcendence as an ideal of distance and 
difference among humans, among the sexes. Further, she uses the term 
divine to refer to both contexts: to transcendence between and among the 
sexes, and to the participation by women in their ideal horizon. And it is 
from this ambivalence around transcendence that Luce Irigaray comes to 
her axial model for relations, to a horizontal /vertical archetype on which 


she arranges her understandings of divinity, at once rejecting and 
retaining the ideal of transcendence. 

It would be commonsensically tempting to imagine that in Luce 
Irigaray's scheme horizontal refers to relations among women and 
between /among the sexes, while the vertical refers to relations between 
women and the divine, but her plural redefinitions of divinity make her 
schematizing not so neat and obvious. 

The horizontal indeed refers to women's relations with others - 
with men or "among women, among 'sisters.'" 188 But the vertical axis is 
more elaborate. Luce Irigaray wants to reject the notion of transcendence 
along this axis - where, for instance, she conceptualizes mother-daughter 
relations and the ideal of a feminine genealogy vertically. 

The world of women must successfully create an ethical order 
[with] two vertical and horizontal dimensions: - daughter-to- 
mother, mother-to-daughter; among women.... In the same way, 
the vertical dimension is always being taken away from female 
becoming. . .. Female genealogy has to be suppressed, on behalf of 
the son-Father relationship, and the idealization of the father and 


Luce Irigaray, "Love of Same, Love of Other/' in Ethics, 108. 


husband as patriarchs. But without a vertical dimension... a loving 
ethical order cannot take place among women. Within themselves, 
among themselves, women need both of these dimensions. 


The vertical dimension is here the horizon of one's genre. It is the 
requisite identificatory context for women to situate themselves in terms 
of a horizon of symbolic, ideal models. The role a mother represents for 
her daughter, or a (pre)history of women, are examples of the vertical 
dimension of relations. 

According to this metaphor, women would always be involved 
concurrently in self-other and in self-divine relations, always moving on 
both axes. Any relation between self and other would be mediated by 
divinity insofar as the vertical axis intersects with the horizontal axis. Any 
kind of relationship a woman has, with another woman or with a man, 
would be negotiated through the field of positive representations of 
women, symbolic figures of femininity, in the context of which a woman 
would place herself: in culture, in the sacred. And thus women's 
relationships - with herself, with other women, with men, with g*d - do 

189 Ibid. 


not take place from the starting point of second-best, of oppression, of 
disenfranchisement, of atrophy. 

The ideal of transcendence is retained as existing between /among 
genders, between genres, in a culture of sexual difference. Relations 
between /among men and women take place in the horizontal dimension; 
transcendence between/ among them along this axis occurs with the 
arbitration of the vertical axis. Instead of being understood as the site of 
human-divine interaction, the vertical axis is reimagined as the dimension 
of female genealogy, of mother/ daughter relations, of female ideals and 
role models, of female becoming, of the female genre. These human- 
divine vertical relations are not relations of transcendence: no schism is 
retained between women and the feminine divine, their identificatory 
horizon for becoming, because the feminine ideal is not defined as that 
which women radically are not. Indeed, women are coextensive with their 
vertical horizon of becoming. 

If love among people is divine, it is because the horizontal, 
relational dimension is informed by the vertical, contextual, generic 
dimension. Love among people - women and women, women and men, 
men and men - might be divine in a culture of sexual difference if 


mediated by the vertical axis and its positive symbolic identificatory 
context for women. 

Luce Irigaray's notion of divinity is refigured and reconfigured 
such that it holds no traces of an inaccessible supernatural entity. Instead 
there is wonder at alteriry in sexual difference; the sexually different other 
- and that can be myself (that part of me that is not me) or an other, a man, 
a woman, a cyborg - is elevated, or expanded, to the status of 
transcendent. The other as other is not given the connotations of the 
divine in the old sense of a supernatural g*d, but, rather, the notion of 
divine is reorganized to include an (ideal) encounter with the other. The 
divine includes the realm of ethico-legal-linguistic transformations which 
enable the recognition and institutionalization of sexual difference(s). It 
includes the horizon constituted by the feminine genre. These 
transformations constitute a vertical plane affirming the feminine, in 
which women participate at the same time as interacting with the other. 
And the mediation of woman's relation with the other by this ethical 
vertical plane renders her encounter with the other less inclined toward 
appropriation and abuse. 


Mine or Yours? Self and Other 

Is not God the name and the place that holds the 
promise of a new chapter in history and that also 
denies this can happen? Still invisible? (Yet) to (be) 
discover(ed)? (Yet) to (be) incarnate(d)? Most ancient 
and always future... 

-Luce Irigaray 

While Luce Irigaray has long been interested in the subversion of 
appropriative relations between self and other, recently her attention to 
these questions has been formulated in a theological context. She uses her 
axial schema to describe an ethics of mediation: intersection allows 
mediation between self and other such that one would not appropriate the 
other in the generation of one's own identity. Luce Irigaray observes that 
in our present culture 191 relations among people - between women, 
between women and men, between men - tend inexorably toward the 
appropriation of the other. Appropriative relations occur wherever I relate 
to the other narcissistically, using her/him to tell me who I am and 
whether I am loved. Luce Irigaray plays with the phrase, "J'aime a toi," as 



Luce Irigaray, "Femmes Divines," in Sexes et parentis, 85, my translation. 
That is, of patriarchy, not of sexual difference. 


an emblem for the ideal relationship to the other which is divinely 
mediated rather than appropriative: I love to /toward you, rather than 
incorporating you in my love and in my-self . Luce Irigaray opposes this to 
formulations such as "I love you," which "always risk annihilating the 
alterity of the other." 192 Such mediated self/other relations are her 
alternative to relations where the other is both appropriated in the 
production of one's own self-identity and also overridden such that one is 
unable to go out toward the other-as-other. One is left in a mode of self 
and (the other appropriated as) version of the self. 

How does the tendency to appropriate the other arise from the 
relationship between masculine identity, women, and a patriarchal g*d? 
Luce Irigaray understands woman as appropriated in the generation of 
masculine identity and man as dependent on his appropriation of woman 
as his negative specular mirror. The patriarchal g*d is a flawed guarantor 
of masculine identity, and thus she does not replicate this structure as an 
ideal for the feminine divine: positioning g*d as not-man is the means of 
rendering g*d man's ideal, and man is thus left radically not-g*d and thus 
not his ideal. The projection of the patriarchal g*d does not provide 
adequate horizon, adequate ideal, for man. 

Luce Irigaray, ]'aime a toi, 172, my translation. 


Luce Irigaray concludes that it is essential for feminist analysis to 
consider the fundamental instability of the man-g*d relationship. A 
subject can recognize and respect the specificity of, rather than 
appropriate, the other if an ideal horizon or genre reinforces the subject's 
identity. The appropriation of woman-as-lack/loss/less by man is related 
to the abandonment of man to a state of atrophy in relation to his 
patriarchal g*d. Further, that women in this system are left to languish 
results in their tendency to appropriate the other in turn, for 
appropriation occurs where "I" relate to the other in the gesture of "I ask 
myself if I am loved." Luce Irigaray indicts not only men but also women 
in this kind of relationship with the other; indeed, she argues that 
women's relation to the other is particularly apt to be appropriative, given 
woman's organization as lack in opposition to the masculine. 193 Luce 
Irigaray sees that women and men appropriate the other, differently, to 
prop up diminished or damaged identity. She alleges that the different 
ways men and women use language is emblematic of this appropriative 
mode of relating to the other. "The typical sentence produced by a male, 
once all substitutions have been allowed for, is: I wonder if I am loved or: 

193 Few note, however, that Luce Irigaray, in contradistinction to her philosophic and 
psychoanalytic traditions, understands both men and women in terms of lack. Women 
represent lack as the atrophied version of the masculine; man is differently seen as a variation 
on lack because of his appropriative identity structure. Man is represented in terms of presence 


I tell myself that perhaps I am loved. The typical sentence produced by a 
woman is: Do you love me?" 194 She sees both forms of relationship to the 
other as flawed and appropriative, privileging neither over the other. The 
"male" speaker is not directed toward the other; rather, "the subject 
speaks to himself.... No place for words for the other here." 195 The woman's 
question is correlative to the question "Who am I?" 196 ; the subject's 
concern is not with the other but with the self. In neither utterance is there 
exchange or alliance between subjects; the possibility of true 
communication between self and other is foreclosed. Luce Irigaray 
interprets that this is because man is atrophy in relation to his g*d, his 
ideal, and woman is atrophy in relation to man. Atrophied subjects 
appropriate the other to tell themselves who they are or that they are 
loved; or to ask who they are and whether they are loved. They do not 
direct themselves outward but rather inward. Indeed, not only can they 
not communicate with the other, but also they can not acknowledge or 
respect her/his difference. 

The negotiation and affirmation of two sexuate genres serve as 
mediating vertical dimensions in the context of which an individual is 

and positivity only through the appropriation of both ideal and negative alter egos on which this 
depends. Thus man is simultaneously plentitude and atrophy, identity and lack. 
Luce Irigaray, "Love of the Other," in Ethics, 134. 


Ibid., 135. 

196 Ibid. 


situated. Communication among subjects is facilitated, rather than 
appropriation of the other in the reassurance of the self. "I am often asked 
if man and woman will be able to communicate if two different genders 
[genres] are affirmed. Perhaps they will be communicating for the first 
time!" 197 Human relations need to be mediated by divine vertical planes 
because mediation between self and other enable respect for the other's 

The Essential Thing Is... 

We cannot afford to allow the vibrations of 

death to continue to drown out the vibrations 

of life. 

-Luce Irigaray 


Gender /genre leads me, inevitably, to a few provisional remarks 
about the debate still a-swirl around "essentialism" in Luce Irigaray's 
work. This term has been used to refer to: 



Luce Irigaray, "The Female Gender [Genre]/' in Sexes and Genealogies, 120. 
Luce Irigaray, interview, in French Philosophers in Conversation, 78. 


"the attribution of a fixed essence to women. Women's essence is 
assumed to be given, universal, identified with biology and 
'natural' characteristics or residing in certain given psychological 
characteristics - nurturance, empathy, supportiveness, or certain 
activities and procedures observable in social practices, 
intuitiveness, emotional responses, concern, and commitment to 
helping others, etc. 199 

In my reading, Luce Irigaray does not refer to a universal feminine 
essence, identified with women's biology, but her appeal to an ideal 
whereby women could establish their subjectivity by situating themselves 
in the context of their sexuate genre might well read - and is often read - 
as an ideal for the unification and universalization of women by a shared 
singular subjectivity. Luce Irigaray's comment that women are prevented 
in this world "from getting themselves together as a unit" seems to 
support this charge, though she stresses the plurality of selves who'd get 
themselves together. 200 This works against the impression that her ideal is 
the sameness of those selves constituting a unit, an identity, a singularity; 
the unit of genre need not suppress the differences among the selves. 



Elizabeth Grosz, "A Note on Essentialism and Difference/' in Feminist Knowledge, 334. 
Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes and Genealogies, 72. 


Grosz goes on to explain that "essentialism entails that those 
characteristics defined as women's essence are shared in common by all 
women at all times: it implies a limit on the variations and possibilities of 
change. " 201 If Luce Irigaray 's concept of genre represented an ideal 
whereby women were somehow unified by a feminine subjectivity 
conceived as singular, then this charge, signified by the label essentialism 
in Anglo-American feminist discourse, would apply. But Luce Irigaray 
emphasizes the infinity, the open-endedness of genre; in much of her 
argument the notion of women's becoming - that is, life along the vertical 
axis - is synonymous with women's divinity. Luce Irigaray does not 
mean to deploy any term that would limit the variations and possibilities 
of change. The concepts of genre, horizontal and vertical dimensions, and 
divinity are interwoven to articulate a dynamic ideal for women's always 
incomplete identity. 

Further, the term essentialism evokes an ideal of the sameness of 
women. If some characteristics are attributed to all women, then the 
differences among women are leveled in favor of descriptions of the ways 
women are alike. In promoting the concept of women's genre, Luce 
Irigaray is clear that the concept refers to an ideal whereby women would 

201 Elizabeth Grosz, "A Note on Essentialism and Difference/' in Feminist Knowledge, 334. 


not relate to one another in terms of sameness but of difference. She 
analyzes the social structures man/g*d and masculine /feminine as 
leading, precisely, to the exclusion of the other's difference through 
appropriation, through the subject's cultural abandonment to a position of 
lack. Women, routinely relegated to this position, are all the more likely 
to relate to one another in our culture as a variation of themselves, or in 
such terms that the se//is the overriding consideration. Luce Irigaray uses 
and redefines of the concept of genre as a mediating factor, allowing 
radically open respect for the other. 

Luce Irigaray's claim here is provocative and enormous and 
"grandiose" 202 : that there can be no reshaping of women's identity and 
subjectivity - indeed, of culture more generally - without reshaping our 
conceptions of divinity. She sees our cultural and historical context as 
inevitably leading a subject to exclude the other's alterity, then redefines 
divinity as that which would prohibit appropriative relations, that there 
might be respect among all humans of one another's agency and 

" Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter, 36. "The largeness and speculative character of Irigaray's 
claims have always put me a bit on edge.... Her terms tend to mime the grandiosity of the 
philosophical errors that she underscores." 


An Ethics of Wonder 

The unceasing movement of two springs 
feeding each other could be the pledge of 
eternal happiness, could it not? 
-Luce Irigaray 20 ' 

Along with Luce Irigaray's more well-known deconstructive work 
which deploys analyses to jam the conceptual apparatus that drives 
phallocentric renderings of g*d, there is a discourse on the divine in 
which she works toward some theo-polirical salvation for women. 
(Certainly she sees formulaic religious assurances of salvation and grace 
as forms of escapism and evasion of ethical responsibility.) In "Divine 
Women," "Belief Itself," and "Equal to Whom?," her rhetoric is designed 
to help women "construct a place for ourselves in the air for the rest of 
our time on earth - air in which we can breathe and sing freely, in which 
we can perform and move at will." 204 A Utopia inspiring hope, opening 
space for new questionings and questings, imaginings and namings, and 
to interrupting with bold strokes of creative reenvisioning the masculinist 

Luce Irigaray, Marine Lover, 37. 
14 Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes and Genealogies, 66. 


world of western theological discourse where constraint, confusion, and 
women's silence have traditionally been normative. 

Luce Irigaray puts forth ethical frameworks to delineate this 
emergent, emancipatory vision of g*d. This new theology must author a 
discursive space in which the other is not consumed by a desire to 
establish any totalizing definition of subjectivity. Rather, this space must 
be one of love where two touch in an embrace which respects difference 
while also permitting the constitutive power of relation to flourish. 

This other, male or female, should surprise us again and again, 
appear to us as new, very different from what we knew or what we 
thought he or she should be. Which means that we would look at 
the other, stop to look at him or her, ask ourselves, come close to 
ourselves through questioning. Who art thou? I am and I become 
thanks to this question. Wonder goes beyond that which is or is not 
suitable for us. The other never suits us simply. We would in some 
way have reduced the other to ourselves if he or she suited us 
completely. An excess resists: the other's existence and becoming as 
a place that permits union and /through resistance to assimilation 


or reduction to sameness. Before and after appropriation, there is 

i 205 


In order for wondrous, nondominating love to exist, the woman 
who loves must inhabit a space of subjectivity that cannot simply be 
reduced to the desire of the other; her relating must move out from a 
space in which self-love grounds her own desire and subjectivity. Luce 
Irigaray suggests that circumscribing the boundaries of this female 
identity remains so difficult for women because under the strictures of the 
male gaze, "we look at ourselves in the mirror to please someone, rarely to 
interrogate the state of our body or our spirit, rarely for ourselves in 
search of our own becoming." 206 For there to be wonder, there must be a 
self-referential gaze: "I have yet to unveil, unmask, or veil myself for me - 
to veil myself so as to achieve self-contemplation, for example, to let my 
gaze travel over myself so as to limit my exposure to the other and 
repossess my own gestures and garments, thus nestling back into my 
vision and contemplation of myself/ 7207 This is what is denied Melusine, 
what is taken from her, by Raimondin's intrusive gaze. Further, by 
repossessing her own gestures and garments, woman can create a nest or 



Luce Irigaray, "Wonder: A Reading of Descartes, The Passions of the Soul," in Ethics, 74. 

Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes and Genealogies, 65. 
207 Ibid. 



envelope which, by containing subjectivity, makes it possible for her to 
love, enfold, and contain the other without sacrificing her own becoming: 
"She must lack neither body, nor extension within, nor extension without, 
or she will plummet down and take the other with her.' 

Within the context of the two-fold ethical constraints of wonder and 
self-love, Luce Irigaray turns to the question of g*d and generates a vision 
of the divine which encourages both the construction of a space of 
subjective integrity for women and a relating to the other which is not 
predicated on a logic of consumption. For this vision of g*d she uses the 
elliptical language of women's continual self-touching in the caress of the 
two lips, a morphology in which one "thinks through mucous." 9 She 
emphasizes immanence and indwelling; instead of imagining g*d as the 
immutable, transcendent Other who founds identity through the eclipse 
of difference, she shows this g*d as moving through and among women 
as spirit, "the respiration of lovers," 210 as the "sensible transcendental" 
that "is not alien to the flesh," 211 but "surrounds them and envelopes them 
in the puissance. Clothing them in that porousness and that mucous that 
they are." 212 In this economy of exchange, g*d and woman touch and 


Luce Irigaray, "Place, Interval: A Reading of Aristotle, Physics IV," in Ethics, 35. 
Luce Irigaray, "Love of Same, Love of Other," in Ethics, 110. 
Luce Irigaray, "An Ethics of Sexual Difference," in Ethics, 129. 
Luce Irigaray, "Love of Same, Love of Other," in Ethics, 110. 
Luce Irigaray, "Love of Self," in Ethics, 69. 


caress as two lips, rendering a knowledge that is undifferentiated from 
the relating which stirs it. Cast in the language of immanence, this g*d is 
both matter and movement, place and interval, within which subjectivity 
coalesces in time-space: "the infinite that resides within us and among us, 
the god in us, the Other for us, becoming with and in us." 213 

The economy of exchange that produces these g*ds is a mirror 
image of the one Luce Irigaray so rigorously critiques in her readings of 
phallocentrism. According to that "old dream of symmetry/' 214 woman 
has no being /becoming of her own because she continually is positioned 
as an other who mirrors man back to himself, defining the borders of his 
identity and securing the stability of his presence. In this phallic economy, 
woman is both constructed and consumed by man's projective desire, 
reduced to a blank screen toward which he directs his narcissistic gaze. 
She is the fictive product of his subjectivity, a function of his need to be 
and to become. "To be the term of the other is nothing enviable. It 
paralyzes us in our becoming." 215 Given Luce Irigaray 's critique of this 
discursive economy, it seems strange that she offers a g*d who, like 
woman, can be nothing more than a blank horizon or the term which 
serves the consumptive needs of the subject who requires an image of g*d 



Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes and Genealogies, 63. 
Throughout the essays in Speculum of the Other Woman. 
Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes and Genealogies, 71. 



in order to become. If this indeed is what she's doing, she seems not to 
have thwarted but to have resurrected the logic of classical ontology and 
Enlightenment epistemology by putting g*d in the place traditionally held 
by woman. How far has Luce Irigaray moved the conversation? Her new 
g*d may be clothed in the garments of female desire, but this g*d still 
occupies the space of an empty sign, a blank screen of transcendence who 
can finally author nothing but the same. And when woman meets this 
g*d, she meets herself, thus remaining caught in the logic of discourse 
which as "a tight fabric... turns back upon the subject and wraps around 
and imprisons [her] in return. 

Can this g*d secure the ethical constraints Luce Irigaray puts forth? 
Can this g*d encourage in practice both self-love and wondrous relation? 
This g*d will save women by authoring a space of becoming where 
relations are not conceived through a binary logic of dialectical loss and 
where fragmentation is not sublated as gain. This g*d will invite women 
to a new becoming by affirming the limits of their subjectivities, by giving 
boundaries to their presently fragmented and dissimulating selves - that 
is, by containing and enveloping and clothing them, as with skin, within a 
discursive receptacle that relishes the open coherence of unique 


Luce Irigaray, "An Ethics of Sexual Difference," in Ethics, 120. 


differences. But can Luce Irigaray's g*d teach women to conceive of 
themselves so? What if the very g*d who is to author this contained 
subjectivity is herself without container or envelope, without a limited 
identity, who as the unenviable term of another is without skin, 
boundary, horizon, or historical particularity, who is nothing but infinite 
expanse, relation, space, interval. While urging women to imagine a g*d 
who will teach them self-love and containment, is Luce Irigaray 
describing a g*d incapable of a divine self-love because this g*d is nothing 
but an empty sign, not so unlike the one invoked by negative theologians, 
that functions only to contain the love of another? Luce Irigaray ties her 
rhetoric into a mobius strip, constructing an eschatological vision that, on 
the one hand, requires us to think our present in terms of subjective 
containment and, on the other hand, asks us to think that present through 
the future horizon of a g*d who, as a term of women's self-love, has no 
envelope, no incommensurable otherness. 

There is similar complexity with Luce Irigaray's conceptualization 
of wonder. The discourse of containment - woman subjectively isolated in 
her own self-loving envelope - is matched with a discourse of g*d that 
leads the subject to reach out to the other in a wondrous caress. In that 
caress, difference is celebrated, mutual respect abounds, and woman 


remains forever half -open to the transformative power of relation. 217 To 
inscribe a discourse of divinity in which such wonder can be imagined, 
Luce Irigaray must let wonder flow between woman and the g*d who 
beckons /welcomes her. For the relation between woman and G*d to be 
wondrous, mustn't there be division of two worlds, two definite space- 
times, two others? Only in difference is passage possible. This difference 
need not be in opposition or contradiction, as in the phallic economy of 
divine exchange. Rather, it exists when one meets the other "always as 
though for the first time." 218 But if g*d is a projection of woman's desire, 
such difference is repressed while assimilation is valorized, and the 
economy of exchange that ensues can prove consumptive and wounding: 
then, between g*d and woman, there would be no advent or event of the 
other. And what new story has begun? It is her story alone, not theirs, 
together. Is this the parousia that Luce Irigaray imagines in the future of 
woman? Her elaboration of wonder suggests not, indeed, but the question 
remains: can a religion in which there is no wonder between persons and 
g*d, incommensurably other, encourage an ethic of wonder between 

217 __ 

See Luce Irigaray, "Wonder," in Ethics, 75, for instance. 
218 Luce Irigaray, "Sexual Difference," in Ethics, 12. 


un ange se passe 

If for men their God is dead, where can the 
divine be spoken without preaching death? 


-Luce Irigaray 


"More or less transparent veils," 220 messengers and mediators, 
angels "have been misunderstood, forgotten, as the nature of that first 
veil, except in the work of poets, perhaps, and in religious iconography. 
They allow messages to be transmitted "from the beyond" 222 : "If we do not 
rethink and rebuild the whole scene of representation, the angels will 
never find a home, never stay anywhere. Guardians of free passage, they 
cannot be captured, domesticated, even if our purpose is to see ourselves 
in them." 223 Rilkean figures, read through Heidegger, angels bearing 
together in a disjunctive, impossible-to-think union the religious 
transcendence of spirituality with the material immanence of bodies. Go- 
betweens, they create passages between the unseen and the seen. As the 
figure whose appearance and disappearance children seek to control in 


Luce Irigaray, Marine Lover, 20. 
10 Luce Irigaray, "Belief Itself," in Sexes and Genealogies, 30. 

221 Ibid., 35. 

222 Ibid. 

223 Ibid., 42. 


their "first language game/' the mother "subsists before language . . . and 
beyond language." 224 She "remains the elemental substrate of life, existing 
before all forms, all limit, all skin, and of heaven, visible beyond-horizon. 
Between these extremes stand the angels and the annunciation of the 
fulfillment of the flesh." 225 

Beyond the circularity of discourse, of the nothing that is in and of 
being. When the copula no longer veils the abyssal burial of the 
other in a gift of language which is neuter only in that it forgets the 
difference from which it draws its strength and energy. With a 
neuter, abstract there is giving way to or making space for a "we 
are" or "we become," we live here" together. 22 


"To find the real,/ To be stripped of every fiction except one,/ The 
fiction of an absolute - Angel,/ Be silent in your luminous cloud and 
hear/ The luminous melody of proper sound." 227 But the real does not 
come forth: we still hear or read words, even when we are asked to 
pretend that those words have captured the "luminous melody of proper 

224 Ibid., 46. 

225 Ibid. 



Luce Irigaray, "An Ethics of Sexual Difference," in Ethics, 129. 
Wallace Stevens, "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction." 


sound" as if spoken in the presence of the Angel of reality or of Rilke's 
terrible angels. Language is the douce campgana of the thing. What one 
finds is what has always already been made. Poetry does not represent or 
imitate anything, except the movement of language itself. One does not 
look beneath the surface of predication to find substance, Aristotle's 
0D0~ia. The play is the matter of poetry, even when poets insist that their 
words have somehow captured the previously hidden x, have disgorged 
the beast and nourished it with the desperate milk of their craft. And it is 
that matter as a play of difference, as a movement between identity and 
otherness, as an excess of signification, with which reading resounds. 
Where Hegel juxtaposed Nature as the Other of Geist in and through 
which Geist was to come to knowledge of Itself as Geist, Luce Irigaray's 
reading juxtaposes trope to trope, literal to figurative, within the brackets 
of a strictly transcendental process. 

It is as difficult but as urgent to discuss the sex of a discourse as it 
is to discuss the sex of an angel: these two apparatuses of circulation 
and /or drift of meaning - one linguistic, the other cosmological - 
constantly avoid determinations as to their place, by means of the 
quiproquo: who has taken whose place? The celibatory machine's narrative 
defines itself as having a sex; by virtue of the break creating its angelic 


transparency, or its conventional coloring, say, it can induce a variety of 
effects based on what it places outside of itself, or the 
body/woman/subject. Its engine is this other, repressed with so much 
precision, and therefore, first and foremost, the reader. A number of 
characteristics confirm this rejection of the other, beginning with the 
refusal to use the power of recapitulating (man and woman) in human 
representation. This makes its discourse antimagical, areligious, and 
nonsymbolic: it does not play on the ability of words to get things going; 
rather than link together, it cuts apart; and finally, it deprives itself of any 
means of filling in the deficiency of the concept and concealing its gaps 
through the production of potential symbols. 228 This practice of division 
gives the textual artifact the energy of what it methodically eliminates. 
But in the extant system, is it not the male divide that gives it its power - 
the violence of a writing whose eroticism increases with its loss of power 
(religious, cosmological, or political) over the other? 


Daniel Sperber points out that a symbol is anything that marks the deficiency of a concept, in 

Rethinking Symbolism. 


The Shape of Things To (Be)Come 

For Irigaray the crisis that for Foucault spells 
the death of philosophy is already over - she is 
standing among the ruins and already sees 
what is to come... 

-Rosi Braidotti 229 

Let us invent together that which allows us to 
live in and go on building the world, 
beginning with this world that is each of us. 

-Luce Irigaray' 


Contra Audre Lorde's famous dictum that "the master's tools will 
never dismantle the master's house," 23 ' much ballyhooed among American 
feminists, Luce Irigaray chooses to operate both from the inside and from 
the outside, from the margins, of philosophy, of theology, of politics, and 
"uses against the edifice the instruments or stones available in the 
house." 232 She sets about "to destroy, but, as Rene Char wrote, with 
nuptial tools." 233 What, after all, does she have to lose, excommunicated 


Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects, 129-130. 

Luce Irigaray, "The Limits of Transference," in Irigaray Reader, 116. 
Audre Lorde, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," Sister 
Outsider, 112. 

Jacques Derrida, "The Ends of Man," Margins, 135. 
Luce Irigaray, "Questions," in This Sex, 150. 



from Lacan's school (upon the publication of Speculum) and alienated 
from the church? Luce Irigaray's writing, and reading Luce Irigaray, is 
neither a historical given, nor a future triumph, but rather an event which 
rests on a certain number of preconditions including, in particular, the 
development of women's socio-political struggles. When dealing with 
issues such as religion and the divine, the revendication of equal rights is 
not enough; what is needed is the symbolic recognition of both sexes' 
access to and notions of the divine. A new symbolic system by and for 
women is needed; Luce Irigaray proposes the figure of the 
mother /daughter couple as starting point. Attacking the monosexed 
image of the Christian g*d, she emphasizes the importance for women of 
defining their own relationship to the divine. The Freudian unconscious 
serves as convenient metaphor for the divine. Few theologians are 
conscious of the ideological (and specifically misogynist) weight such a 
metaphor already carries. Proposing a mother g*d is potentially, once 
again, a substitution, a mere replacement of terms within an equation that 
is, still, controlled by men. 

We need to become 'other' in relation to ourselves. And yet there is 
a threshold we should be aware of. In my view, it is marked by 


sexual difference. Within the same sex, what usually rules is 
quantity. It is a question of leaving behind our comparative state, 
by perception, by the exercise and expression of our sexuality, our 
sensibility, and our minds, by living as subjects our relations to our 
mothers, to the universe, to other women, to other men. 


The theo-politico-philosophical question par excellence, What is to be 
done?, "must acknowledge the force of writing, its metaphoricity and its 
rhetorical discourse, as a productive matrix which defines the 'social' and 
makes it available as an objective of and for action." 235 Luce Irigaray 
demonstrates that there is a plurality of possible techniques, procedures, 
and methods within knowledges. She shows that there are always other 
ways of proceeding, other perspectives to be occupied and explored, than 
those contained within our history. The fact that a single contested 
paradigm (or a limited number) governs current forms of knowledge 
demonstrates the role that power, rather than reason, has played in 
developing knowledges. This power, although not as clearly visible as 
other forms of patriarchal coercion, is nonetheless integral to women's 
containment within definitions constituted by and for men. Unlike 

Luce Irigaray, "Equal to Whom?," 72. 
Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 23. 


phallocentric and patriarchal models, Luce Irigaray's work is openly 
proclaimed as partial, partisan, and motivated. It is a political intervention 
into a politically unacknowledged field of intellectual warfare. She uses 
guerrilla tactics: strategic forays into the enemies' camp, the camp defined 
by male theory, 236 and skirmishes using the enemies' own weapons 
against them. For her, the crisis of reason does not represent an impasse, 
but rather a path for women to explore and judge for themselves. Her 
work is a facing up to the implications of this crisis to know, as women, 
the knower, as man has been and woman is now becoming. Her work 
poses questions about the partiality and the sexualization of all 
knowledges. It entails an acknowledgment of the sexually particular 
positions from which knowledges emanate and by which they are 
interpreted and used. 

Luce Irigaray uses insights of Christianity against its manifest 
misogyny, finding there a model of the respect for the incarnation of all 
bodies (men's and women's) as potentially divine: nothing more or less 
than each man and each woman being virtually gods. In "Divine Women" 
she repeatedly spells out at least some of the conditions necessary for 
women to develop an autonomous self-conception, including a concept of 

56 And that includes the encampment of most women theorists. 


g*d and the divine as an historically possible future. Only if women have 
their own concepts of the divine can a divine fecundity between the sexes 
occur. The love of g*d is for her a love of the self, and this self-love is the 
prerequisite for love of the other. Self-love implies recognizing 

• where we come from - women, mothers, all of us - 

• where we are now - politically, philosophically - and 

• a future in which we can become more than this - it is this that Luce 
Irigaray calls g*d. 

"God forces us to do nothing except become. The only task, the only 
obligation laid upon us is: to become divine men and women, to become 
perfectly, to refuse to allow parts of ourselves to shrivel and die that have 
the potential for growth and fulfillment." 237 

Luce Irigaray calls women and feminists not to give up on g*d-talk 
but to engage critically and creatively in collective reimaginings. That she 
so clearly gestures toward the divine in her work invites theologians to 
struggle with her theoretical insights into the role of gender in the 
construction of divine rhetorics without having to overcome the 
antireligious bias one finds in much current feminist theory. Too, Luce 
Irigaray's work is situated on the outer margins of christian discourse, a 

Luce Irigaray, "Divine Women," in Sexes and Genealogies, 68-69. 


location which allows her to push questions and issues that theologians 
who feel the constraints of church commitments might miss or might hold 
themselves back from. 

The positive connotation of the masculine gender, the gender of 
words, is tied to the impact of the establishment of the patriarchy, 
and in particular to the appropriation of divinity by men. This is 
not a minor question. It is a very important one. Without divine 
power, men would not have been able to supplant the relationship 
between mother and daughter, and its consequences in nature and 
society. But man becomes God by giving himself an invisible 
father, a father tongue. Man becomes God as Word, and as Word 
made flesh. Sperm, whose power in the procreation process is not 
immediately visible, is relayed through the linguistic code, the 


As activist and political rhetorician, Luce Irigaray continually 
positions her work vis-a-vis communities of women who are struggling 
against the oppressive logic of phallocentrism and its conception of the 

Luce Irigaray, interview, French Philosophers in Conversation, 65. 


divine, yet her principal audience has been and continues to be academic 
feminists whose disciplinary interests rarely lead them to construct 
liturgies and other socially-enacted rhetorics designed to test the practical 
force of Luce Irigaray's theological reflections. Such is not the case, 
however, with feminist theologians whose peculiar ecclesiastic 
commitment requires them to locate their reflections in the context of 
active, worshipping communities. Thus, it is possible that feminist 
theologians could help to provide Luce Irigaray's writings with the 
audience they need but are institutionally, culturally, or stylistically 
unable to reach, an audience both to encourage and to challenge her 
stances. "Can this androgyny blaze a trail for an intergender ethics? If it 
exists, this trail must use sexual difference as both its setting out point 
and its destination, must take advantage of sexual difference on the road 
to spiritual discovery and affirmation." 239 What would this culture of 
sexual difference be? What would be changed? 

'Grace that speaks silently through and beyond the word? 


Luce Irigaray, "The Female Gender/' in Sexes and Genealogies, 123. 
Luce Irigaray, Marine Lover, 190. 


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